I don’t usually write about presidential politics in these pages, but what else is there to talk about these days? I suppose I could pick the coronavirus, but I’d rather not. So I’m looking back to candidates I’ve seen with my own two eyes, from times past and present.
The first was when I was nine. It was in downtown Claremont, and my mother pointed to a man who was giving a speech. “Joey,” she said, “You’re looking at the next president of the United States.” The man’s name was Harold Stassen.
Stassen was a serious candidate that year, but Thomas E. Dewey got the Republican nomination instead, and President Truman beat him. The Chicago Tribune’s memorable day-after-election-day egg-on-your-face headline was “Dewey Defeats Truman.” And that was before hanging chads.
My second presidential candidate was Estes Kefauver from Tennessee. I don’t remember whether he was wearing his trademark coonskin cap, but Adlai Stevenson won the nomination and lost to General Eisenhower that year and again in 1956, when Kefauver was Stevenson’s running mate. I don’t have to remind you who was Eisenhower’s running mate and his vice-president, but does anyone remember who ran with Stevenson the first time? No fair googling.
New Hampshire plays an outsize role in this process every four years, and presidential hopefuls trek through the snow and promise to come back even when they don’t have to. It happened this year, and it will keep happening, at least as long as our state continues to occupy its first-in-the-nation-primary election status. Talking heads on cable TV point out how homogeneous and unrepresentative New Hampshire is compared to the country as a whole. But its complexion is changing, and the state is now about 10% minority, which puts it ahead of Vermont, Maine, and maybe one or two other states.
And when it comes to electing women, the state does very well—Jeanne Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Kelly Ayotte, Annie Kuster, and Maggie Hassan, not to mention my mother’s friend, Marion Phillips, who became Mayor of Claremont in 1954.
After Kefauver, several election cycles passed before I laid eyes on another presidential candidate. But in 1987 a former Hill & Barlow law partner of mine decided to run. I saw quite a bit of Michael Dukakis that year and the next, and still do from time to time. He didn’t make it to the Oval Office, but he came a lot closer than Stassen and Kefauver.
In 2007, after another long hibernation period, I saw a candidate named Barack Obama. In fact, I saw him a number of times, including once at Keene High School, and finally one of my eyeballed candidates made it all the way.
This year Bill Weld and Deval Patrick, also both former partners of mine in Boston, gave it a try. The Pianist and I saw Deval and the other Democratic candidates (Tulsi Gabbard was a no-show) speak in Manchester a few days before the primary. I asked Deval how he was doing, and he said, “I think I’m getting the hang of it.” Maybe so, but the following Tuesday the voters went elsewhere, and he wisely decided it was too late and too little.
That 2020 pre-primary Saturday night was the second time I had seen Joe Biden. The first was in Washington on January 19, 2009, the evening before the inauguration. By mere happenstance we were walking from one function to another, just the two of us. We talked about our grandchildren.