When a major cable news celebrity is forced to wait out in the winter air along with lesser media mortals to get into a pre-New Hampshire primary campaign stop, it’s clear a presidential candidate is having one hell of a spotlight moment.
With the Merrimack American Legion Post 98 at full capacity on Thursday afternoon, the winding line of voters and reporters of all stripes stretched into the parking lot, making for a stark visual statement on the impact Pete Buttigieg’s showing in the Iowa caucuses has already had on his campaign. At the time of this writing, with 96% of precincts in the Hawkeye State reporting, the former South Bend, Indiana mayor is tied in first place with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa delegate count.
On Thursday, New Hampshire voters flocked to a Buttigieg event hosted by VoteVets, a progressive veterans organization focused on everything from unemployment and continued care for vets, to labor, immigration, climate change, and LGBTQ rights as they coincide with the needs of active troops and veterans.
The sign outside the hosting American Legion promoted a “meat raffle,” but in the low temps, bruised egos and emotional reporters were the only raw thing on the menu, as grumbling cameramen, on-air talents, and various network types jockeyed to get in and get their piece of Pete.
For every lucky hack who made it through the door, five unlucky suckers (including yours truly) shuffled closer, but still had little chance of getting in. One guy who stepped outside after having been in the building was prevented from re-entering, causing one of many Curb Your Enthusiasm-level moments. Every time that someone made the poor decision to flex their importance, however real or perceived, there was seemingly another, far more important talking head on hand to remind everyone that we are in the same boat. For the most part …
Through the fog of nobodies, MSNBC show host and hoagie hound Chris Matthews managed to get access; “Just hang on,” he whispered in his trademark brassy brogue to the minion flanking his effort, “she’ll get us in.”
As the start time came and went, the line had barely thinned when a Buttigieg staffer emerged to divert all non-media attendees to another entrance that would get them into the event. But the remaining hacks and camera jockeys guffawed, in many cases manically texting their potential plugs and saviors.
Mayor Pete’s lead out of Iowa is fractional; still, scenes like this one illustrate just how intense this competition is getting. He and Sanders are today’s beasts of the campaign trail, pounding palms on parallel tracks.
As for what happened inside—you’ll have to ask Chris Matthews. Have fun with that one.
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.