New Hampshire's Primary Contrast
By Ceci Connolly
When Vice President Gore's team meets, they talk about loyalty, experience and, perhaps most important, the power of the office. They honed their skills in two Clinton campaigns and now that training is paying off. They've got the lists, they've got the money, they've got Air Force Two parked on the tarmac.
A presidential candidate is only as strong as his team of activists and nowhere is that more true than here in New Hampshire, where the first-in-the-nation primary has historically separated the dreamers from the true contenders.
Last weekend, the two rival Democratic camps met for their first face-to-face test of grass-roots strength. On display at the party's midterm convention were the outlines of two distinctly different political operations, one powered by the perks of incumbency, the other a patchwork of eager newcomers and misty-eyed old-timers with an overriding sense they are on the right side of history.
"The more people see him and hear him, they will vote for him," said Peter Howe, a burly manufacturing consultant who is backing Bradley. "He is the anti-political politician."
Bradley enters the Democratic primary as the classic underdog, with less money, lower name identification and a smaller cadre of professional handlers. And like the underdogs of the past, he hopes to stage an upset in the early contests of Iowa or New Hampshire with the help of a band of dedicated volunteers.
Many have followed Bradley since his stunning basketball career at Princeton University and for the New York Knicks. Others like that he is not associated with President Clinton. Many of his chanting fans at the Saturday convention were college students from Princeton, Dartmouth and MIT.
"I worked really hard for Bill Clinton" and was deeply distressed by last year's impeachment scandal, Howe said.
"I have never heard anything shabby about Bill Bradley," added George Scott, a manager at a high-tech firm in Keene.
The two men know they face long odds – even in their home region, Keene Mayor Pat Russell is a friend of Clinton and is expected to be an influential player on behalf of Gore. Elsewhere up and down this small state, a bounty of state lawmakers, county chairs and mayors are already lined up behind the vice president.
Compared to her days stuffing envelopes for "Comeback Kid" Bill Clinton, "this is a bit of a different kind of campaign," Gore supporter Alice Chamberlin said. "We have more assistance; it's well-organized nationally."
John Rauh, a veteran New Hampshire organizer supporting Bradley, said the former New Jersey senator is bringing new blood into the political process. "The top 100 Democratic activists and leaders are all with Al Gore," he said. "Beyond that, it is absolutely wide open."
Chip Moynihan, an employee benefits consultant from Hampton, said that sometimes the Gore effort feels "almost too easy. I fear there may not be the passionate support you get from developing a real grass-roots operation." Still, given the alternative, Moynihan is happy to be with the Democrat in the lead. "It's the power of incumbency," he said. "It's like a title fight – you have to knock the champion out."
Gore's team is quick to say it will not let the pomp and circumstance of the vice presidency or Gore's early lead in the primary polls get in the way of old-fashioned retail politicking. In her visit here, Tipper Gore compared the 2000 presidential effort to her husband's first run for the House in 1976.
"We intend to have a campaign that is based on grass-roots campaigning and grass-roots organization, just as we have done in the past," she said in an interview after addressing 450 party activists. "That's really how we are approaching this, just as if he were running for Congress for the first time."
Although Gore's New Hampshire lineup reads like a who's who of political insiders, many of them know what it's like to run an insurgency campaign. Jeanne Shaheen, long before she was governor, was a grass-roots activist who helped lead Gary Hart to his stunning first-place finish here in 1984. Although she has yet to endorse a candidate, her husband, William Shaheen, is Gore's state director.
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