Photos by Chris Faraone
It must really drive folks in the Midwest, South, and everyplace else outside New England insane that we get to host the most despicable and critical political event of the quadrennial cycle. As anyone who’s ever ventured beyond Red Sox Nation knows, we’re loathed as much as we are loved. Whatever the case, from now until the first-in-the-nation festivities in early February, I’ll be keeping close tabs on New Hampshire along with former DigBoston Editor Dan McCarthy and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
Enough about our plans for next month though. In the meantime, we hurdled up I-93 last weekend to survey the political landscape on the eve of this historic centennial New Hampshire Primary—and it was hardly a surprise to find a city full of people who are mightily enthusiastic about shouting their opinions on the upcoming hysteria into your personal space.
Since you can’t drive for more than a minute around Manchester at this time of year without having your political bell rung, we were greeted off a highway exit by an LED sign accusing the state’s own Republican US Senator Kelly Ayotte of protecting heroin dealers. A couple hundred yards away I spied a small cascade of placards advertising a site called wethefans2016.com. I pop the URL into Google, only to discover that I’m too late to vote in a contest for the local minor league baseball team, the Manchester Fisher Cats, in which participants were asked to choose between a Democratic donkey and a Republican elephant to adorn the team’s hats for the 2016 season opener. Take it as a harbinger of things to come or as meaningless promotional hogwash, but the latter won with 53 percent of the popular vote.
Our first stop was the Wild Rover, an iconic political haunt where I once saw a bartender force a bathtub-sized shot of bourbon on former Connecticut Senator and 2004 Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman, who begrudgingly slugged it in one giant and uncomfortable swoosh to quell a mob of cheering fans. I learned everything I ever need to know about primary politics that day—namely, that pols will do virtually anything to place first in New Hampshire, where a baby’s first words are often, “I still haven’t decided yet.”
The instinct of a lot of Granite Staters I have interviewed since my first trip up to Manch 12 years ago is to initially deny that they have any interest whatsoever in the polls. Or as Oliver, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran who I met at the Rover, explained, “God bless America, but fuck the assholes who run it.” On the day before his 70th birthday (full disclosure: I bought him a celebratory beer), he exemplified the sort of anti-partisan fire that ignites the body politic above the Merrimack every four years.
“I don’t give a fuck about any of it,” Oliver claimed at the beginning of our conversation. “I have my service disability—even though it took me 30 years to get it—so it’s not like they can take anything away from me at this point. I have a home for me and my cat, a TV, a stereo … They’re all crooks anyway—it doesn’t matter who you vote for.”
After claiming a lack of interest in politics, within sips and seconds Oliver began naming the candidates and, along with another Rover regular approximately 10 years his junior, proceeded to analyze their positives and negatives as I scribbled and quibbled. An amalgam of their observations and of those who drifted in and out of our benevolent scrum:
- “The biggest thing stopping Hillary from winning is Bill.” Rather than the typical sexist arguments against Mrs. Clinton, these guys went on to eviscerate Bubba, whose degenerate tendencies they don’t want anywhere near the White House again.
- The biggest thing hurting Bernie Sanders is that he’s from Vermont. This wasn’t something said to me directly, but some side comments from Oliver gave me the impression that a neighbor state rivalry may be a factor, however minimal.
- “That Marco Rubio seems alright. And Ted Cruz too.” Parroting some national talking heads, there was prevalent thought among my entirely unscientific barside sample that either of these two congressmen may end up on the ticket in some way or another.
And then there is The Donald who—you guessed it—dominates political discussion in the Granite State, as he does virtually everywhere else. Oliver said he fears a Trump presidency, as did the thirtysomething college professors sitting beside us at the next bar we crashed. All of them, however, said they know more than a few fellow voters who appreciate Trump’s pledge to make sure New Hampshire keeps its first-in-the-nation status. I went and found the specific promise to which they’re referring, and it’s from a rally the well-coiffed candidate held at Pennichuck Middle School in Nashua on December 28. Always the crowd-pleaser, he promised:
New Hampshire will always maintain its place if I win. OK? Just so you understand. It’s a big movement. There’s a big movement to put you at the back of the pack, or the middle of the pack, so it would no longer be the same thing. You’ll never see me again, but you will see me, because I have so many friends. But there’s a big movement to put New Hampshire way back. I don’t know why—is it retribution? Is it [that] they don’t want it? They don’t like it? I mean, because you have a lot of power, you have a lot of power.
Trump went on to imply that undocumented immigrants—“illegals,” as his crowd labels them—have a proclivity to rape, then proceeded to stroke the barrels of gun owners by assuring they could easily stop terrorists, and to claim that he will no longer eat Oreos since Nabisco is moving a factory to Mexico. It’s enough to make your average journalist or fact-checker who’s taking any of this seriously go mad. Which is all the more reason that while the others report on the horse race, we plan to cover the stalls.
This is a preview of “Manchester Divided,” an upcoming project for which the Dig is teaming with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism to provide unconventional coverage of the New Hampshire Primary. Stay tuned to DigBoston.com for more dispatches, and watch for an announcement next week from BINJ about its political hip-hop show on Friday, February 5 at the Shaskeen Pub in Manchester with Granite State and Akrobatik.