Saturday, January 5, 2008

National political reporter

Joel Achenbach is set loose on the

Granite State as Tuesday's primary


6:30 a.m.

It's zero degrees here in Concord, N.H. Not "feels like" zero. Actually zero, according to the Web site of the Union Leader. "Feels like" 75 below with a steady wind from the Arctic, or from someplace even farther north than that. The moon, maybe. But temperatures here, if not the politics, should begin to moderate today and, with a couple of feet of fresh snow, it should be picture-perfect New Hampshire primary conditions. And we can't complain about the weather, because this morning we have a special gift: News! At last!

For so long the campaign has had to survive off polls, opinions and the ceaseless prattling of people in my business. Letting the voters participate for the first time was dangerous, to be sure, but after a solid YEAR, yes, YEAR of nonstop campaigning, it was time to open things up.

The results in Iowa mean, if anything, that the races in both parties are more unpredictable and wide open than ever, unless you happen to be, say, Chris Dodd or Joe Biden, who were classy candidates and who head home, I hope, feeling like it was all worth it. I watched the TV coverage with the deliriously happy Obama campaign folks at Milly's Tavern in Manchester last night. Patrick Murphy, a congressman from Pennsylvania, said, "I think it's a great night for America." He said Barack Obama's New Hampshire operation is the strongest political team ever assembled. He said that Obama has hired 700 people and that only four have left the campaign over the past year. "That's unheard of," he said.

Last night John McCain had the state to himself, and if he seemed tired, he could lean on his new campaign partner, Joe Lieberman. Ask McCain a question and he may just hand it off to the apostate Democrat. I asked Ted Gatsas, the Republican state Senate leader who endorsed McCain last night, whether anyone in New Hampshire hadn't yet heard McCain's stump speech. Gatsas said, "In New Hampshire, you have to hear somebody two or three times before you make a decision."

One guy has done just that: Dave Tiffany, who described himself as a full-time antiwar activist. He grilled McCain three weeks ago, he said, and did so again last night in Derry, demanding to know how long McCain would keep U.S. troops in Iraq. McCain, who let Tiffany follow up several times -- the exchange was a little testy but still civil -- said he'd keep forces there indefinitely, but only if Americans were no longer being killed.

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