Under the spreading eaves on Chestnut Street, a Carter doubter stands.
"I am disappointed in Jimmy Carter as president," Paul Landry says. And this may come as something of a surprise to Jimmy Carter because he and Landry are, as the president would say, close personal friends.
At least a half dozen times, when he was running for president on the cheap in 1976, Carter spent the night with Landry and his wife and nine children in their necessarily sprawling home on Chestnut Street. Landry was his state finance chairman then.
What makes Landry's concerns worth nothing at this point, with the snows of the presidential primary time still three seasons away, is that they reflect the sort of concerns that are widespread in this first primary state, even among the president's friends and especially among the others. They are the concerns that Carter and his people will have to deal with in the long months ahead.
"The problem with Jimmy Carter is that he is naive." Landry says. "I know he took on the tough issues first -- like the Panama Canal -- and I think he was wrong to do it that way. Now on energy he is allowing the prices to rise -- and that might be the right thing, but he hasn't sold it. People feel they're going to get screwed."
Landry speaks of energy not as the average working man and not even just as the average presidential friend; he is the head of United Petroleum, a fuel oil distributor in the state. "We're in the middle, and I know there are no simple answers." Landry says. "But my profit is less than it was two years ago while Exxon's is up 37 percent."
Still, Landry says his vote can be had by Carter. "I haven't committed myself at this date," he says. "But if you're asking me now if I would support Carter, the answer is, perhaps yes."
New Hampshire is a place where the shoe industry withers because of imports from Japan but the politics industry flourishes because of imports from Washington. They are besieged quadrennially here and they wouldn't have it any other way.
In presidential politics, the New Hampshire customer is always right; and the salesmen court in relentless pursuit. It is one of the more ludicrous facts of American political life that now, in the spring of 1979, the selling of 1980 has begun.
In a restaurant in Concord, a number of Democrats -- some of them well-known names here -- meet in secret in a private room to discuss how they want to unseat Jimmy Carter with a draft write-in for Sen. Edward Kennedy. They take a pledge not to tell anyone who was there or what was agreed to. One who attended, last year's state Democratic Chairwoman Joanne Symons, will say only "I was at a birthday party." But the Kennedy write-in people are everywhere -- "clandestine and subterranean. Says Jack Meehan, the Hillsborough County chairman who is still a Carter supporter. "Your best friend or neighbor could be one of them; it's like the Irish Republican Army."
In a statehouse three thousand miles away, Gov. Edmund (Jerry) Brown sits in his office telephoning state legislators in New Hampshire about a resolution they are going to vote on. It is the resoiution calling for a constitutional convention to demand a balanced federal budget and it is going to pass in the conservative New Hampshire Senate. But Brown telephones each of the 12 Democratic state senators anyway. And then, when it passes, his aide puts out statements saying that the vote was a great victory for Brown over Carter (whose people made no calls on the matter) and that it just could not have been done without him.
(Brown's aide claims credit for changing state Sen. Jim Splaine's vote; but then Splaine says he was going to vote aye all along. It goes like that.)
In the capitol in Concord and in bars and coffee shops, New Hampshire pols talk of themselves importantly to visiting pols from Washington and the visiting press as well. A Democratic state senator, Louis E. Bergeron, tells a reporter why he is unhappy with Carter. "He's abandoned us." the state legislator complains. "He never asked for advice on energy or anything." One of his colleagues, state Sen. Robert Fennelly, says pointedly: "My support for Carter is questionable now. And the seacoast will go to Brown without me [working for Carter]."
In a guest bedroom in a private home in Durham, Chris Brown unpacks the bags he has just brought from New Mexico and sets out to run Carter's 1980 campaign in New Hampshire from there, for awhile -- "so we don't blow our whole spending limit on overhead." In 1976, when he ran Carter's victorious New Hampshire campaign, the main thing was getting people to know who Carter was and convincing them his low standing in the polls could be turned around. This time Chris Brown says everyone knows who Carter is -- but he still has to convince people Carter's low standing in the pols can be turned around.One poll by two professors gives Kennedy 48 percent, Carter 23 and Brown 12. Another, by a Manchester research firm, gives Kennedy 50, Brown 21 and Carter only 11. "I have no reason to doubt those figures," says boyish-looking Chris Brown. "But it is very early in the game."
Carter's advisers have come up with a strategy for dealing with the phenomenon of New Hampshire that is right out of the pop philosophy of Jerry Brown. It is the politics of lowering expectations.
"We have got to deal with the fact that we might not win in New Hampshire," said one of the president's advisers in Washington. "It is possible that the write-in for Kennedy or the vote for Brown could do very well... So our message has to be of limited expectations. Carter might not do as well as you might expect of an incumbent."
So Carter officials have gotten the word and they are, all of them, saying that Carter will enter every state primary, every state convention, every state caucus. "You can't target against him and knock him out with just a win in one or two key places," the adviser said. "You have got to get more total delegate votes," Or, as Carter's New Hampshire coordinator, Chris Brown, put it: "Perhaps it is analogous to the race between Jerry Ford and Ronald Reagan. Even if the president does not do spectacularly, he may still muddle through and be renominated."
At the Carter White House, officials feel strongly that the media is the message, and so they are starting early to try to downply a situation that (in its premature state) looks eminently salvageable, but not necessarily good.
"The results of New Hampshire will be disproportionately reported," complained one Carter assistant. "There is no way we can avoid that." He is probably correct -- but then, it was this same "disproportionately reported" overemphasis that in 1976 made Carter what he is today. His New Hampshire victory gave Carter the look of a winner early on, a look that stuck with him even when he went on to finish fourth in the next primary (in more populous Massachusetts) and lose a number of other late contests.
Ironically, Carter advisers are also troubled by the kind of candidacy they see Brown posing for them in New Hampshire.
"Brown is going to run an uncerdog campaign," said a Carter assistant. "He's going to run against us as an outsider, with man-of-the-people issues such as his balanced budge; consititutional convention."
Also true. New Hampshire has not seen anything like it in fact since 1876, when Carter ran just that sort of campaign, leaving all of the Washington luminaries on the ballot complaining in his wake.
Meanwhile, the Jerry Brown people have stopped being coy about the will-he-or-won't he question.
"There is no question that Jerry is going back to New Hampshire," says Brown's chief aide, Gray Davis. "The only question is when."
Kennedy poses a problem of a different sort.Due to Kennedy's favorite son popularity throughout the New England region, a write-in draft effort in his name may do well even if he is not running and if he does nothing overtly or even covertly in its behalf.
The Carter officials are concerned about this. "Kennedy has the best of all situations in New Hampshire," said one Carter official. "He does not have to go out and debate the issues. No one can effectively campaign against him. And he doesn't have any expectations that he will be held up to meet. A 10 percent write-in is okay; a 60 percent write-in is okay."
While Carter has most of the biggest names of the Democratic establishment in New Hampshire, he does not, so far, have all of them. Carter has the backing of Gov. Hugh Gallen and state House Democratic leader Chris Spirou. But Sen. John Durkin remains openly undecided and outspokenly criticial of Carter on many policies, most prominently energy.
And then there are Dudley W. Dudley, a redundantly named but redoubtably powerful woman who is a member of the state Executive Council, and former state Democratic Party chairwoman Joanne Symons. They have been talking about running a Kennedy write-in effort.
Dudley says she is still undecided and waiting. Symons says, "We are talking about a Kennedy write-in, and if we go ahead it would be strictly a draft. It is irrelevant what Ted Kennedy says or does concerning it. We'd be taking the thing into our own hands. But we won't do anything until the fall."
Meanwhile, someone else already has. Robert Philbrick, a former Hillsborough County Democratic chairman and now the Milford town party chairman has put together the "New Hampshire Democrats for a New Democratic President in 1980." Philbrick's group has a few other local party people backing it, and it is expected that if the Kennedy write in effort gets off the ground, his group would become part of it.
Gallen says that the Kennedy writein could do well if it is allowed to exist unchecked. But he does not expect that to happen. "He's going to have to disavow it at some point," Gallen says. "Either that or he will be in what amounts to a contest with the president -- and he has said he does not want to do that."
But Spirou, who is an all-out and outspoken Carter backer, figures it does not matter either way.
Spirou is sitting in the bar at the Sheraton Wayfarer in Bedford and he is talking of deliverance.
"You know why that Kennedy write-in can never work?" he says, shouting out his question to drown out a rock band, in an accent still heavy with his Greek origins. He is not waiting for an answer. "Because the people running it cannot deliver. Bob Philbrick cannot deliver one vote. Not one legislature seat out of four in Milford. Few leaders can deliver. I'm one of them."
Spirou barks out his barroom lecture on New Hampshire politics from under a thick dark mustache and he jabs his finger at his audience for emphasis.
There are people in the camp of Birch Bayh who have accused Spirou for having been unable to deliver for Bayh in 1976. But no matter. Tonight Spirou is composing his own list of the leaders who cannot deliver. He mentions one name -- "he couldn't even remember Kennedy's name long enough towrite it in" -- and Spirou is going on when a friend approaches and claps him on the back and they have a few words and then he walks away.
"See that guy?" Spirou says. "That is Fred Faad. That guy -- if I just say the word -- he would have 200 billboards up in the morning. And he would deliver 100 votes if I asked. It does not matter whether I am running Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. One hundred votes. And you know why? Because he got a $100,000 SBA loan, that's why."
"Jimmy Carter will win with a write-in or without a write-in for Kennedy." Spirou says confidently. "You can depend, on it."
While the quest for the support of New Hampshire's public and party officials goes on. Carter strategists have concluded that the best thing Carter can do is continue the sort of campaigning he has already started, with his unofficial -- but nevertheless effective -- swing through New Hampshire Wednesday.
"There is such a thing as having state officials be for you in the wrong way." said one Carter assistant who was with the president. "That is if there were no town meeting (such as the one Carter held Wednesday in Portsmouth) and he just met with officials and the big shots within the state at a dinner. But the town meeting is the sort of campaign thing that is Jimmy Carter at his best."
And it was. The session -- paid for by the government, as were allof his other town meetings around the country -- gavel Carter a forum for the easy, personal style of campaigning that he does so well. He is president now and so he probably will never again be able to go back to the day-after-day campaigning where he talked patintly to voters in living rooms by the fives and sixes. A town meeting will probably be as personal as he can get.
The Carter strategists figure that the president can beat Jerry Brown is New Hampshire just by doing his own personal-presidential thing.
But Kennedy, they say, is something else. If Kennedy decides to enter the campaign, they concede, it is likely that he will win New Hampshire and maybe win it big. The Carter officials would like to see Kennedy publicly repudiate any write-in effort, and so far he has stopped short of that. Instead, Kennedy calmly disposes of the endless questions of whether he will run or whether he will not.
And the Carter strategists sit quletly watching for a change in the whether.
EPILOGUE: Part of the chrome that goes with the presidency is Air Force One. And the Carter staff has shown they know how to use the plans as a campaign courtship. So it was when they flew to New Hampshire; they took with the president not only the state's congressional delegation (including the undecided Durkin), but wavering state official Dudley who was invited to come down so she could ride back up.
But Dedley's fellow waverer, Symons, said she received no such invitation -- and so she feigned surprise, saying: "I thought maybe they'd want me to ride in the nose cone." CAPTION: Picture, Carter at N.H. town meeting: Aides expect more such personal-style campaigning. UPI