Carter is right about the torment that operatives experience in New Hampshire. I lived my own experience in 1988 after Vice President George H.W. Bush had finished third in Iowa, making New Hampshire a must-win. Lee Atwater and others were morose. And bad got worse after we arrived in New Hampshire, when a snowstorm kept us from traveling far from the hotel. Bush decided to go for a walk with the media in tow to shake a few hands. For no apparent reason, he decided to make a snowball and throw it at a road sign; he missed. That was the message for the day, a campaign off-target.
Only Gov. John Sununu was upbeat. We thought he was crazy, but what he really was was tuned in to New Hampshire. He knew the voters would not ratify an Iowa decision that year. He was right, and the rest is history.
New Hampshire is a different kinda place, where old stoic Yankees mix with high-end young professionals. They take their independence and their primary seriously. They rise to the occasion and are often more serious than the traveling political circus that clamors and stumbles through the state.
I’ll bet more voters have made up their minds than the polls will suggest. New Hampshire voters possess a collective ability to keep their own counsel better than most. All this makes for too many campaigns, too much media and too little viable insight to guide you, or even to talk about. There is a shortage of tea leaves to read, too much guessing and therefore, a lot of error.
The debates are important but, for New Hampshire voters, the winner may not be the loudest or the most well-rehearsed. Campaigns and candidates should be careful not to be fooled into speaking to a national or South Carolina Republican audience while they are being given the final examination by the unique New Hampshire voters.
On a more specific note, after the outcome in Iowa, I predicted that by yesterday a more complete picture of Rick Santorum would begin to come into focus. This morning’s front-page Washington Post story by Dan Eggen and Carol D. Leonnig is the most complete take I’ve seen on Santorum in Washington. In the next few days, we will all be reading more about this, and New Hampshire voters especially will be hearing about it in heavy doses.