Sunday, January 15, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Primary Memories

Downtown Des Moines Jan 1, 2008
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 15, 2012

Like any self-respecting political junkie, I've spent a lot of time, especially since the New Year, following news coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. 

I've done that every four years since 1968 when Gene McCarthy's surprising New Hampshire showing put a major crimp in LBJ's re-election plans. (I was 14 at the time.) 

But this year, I was a little wistful while reading articles or watching news coverage of the early contests. That's because four years ago, I was there, in both Iowa and New Hampshire, covering what turned out to be then-Gov. Bill Richardson's final days as a presidential candidate. 
Richardson in Concord, NH

Richardson himself says he gets a little nostalgic when following the coverage. "... I do miss those town meetings and I do miss the campaigning and, you know, it brought a lot of memories" he said when I saw him at the Roundhouse last week. 

Though I still shiver when I think about how cold it was in Des Moines when I stepped out of the airport on Jan. 1, 2008 (according to those who were there, it was much warmer in Iowa this year), I have a lot of fun memories on that trip. 

There was the airplane hangar in Dubuque, where Richardson addressed a small crowd. It was so cold that you could see people's breath when they spoke, but that didn't stop the inquisitive Iowans from asking lots of (mostly intelligent) questions. I found that in both states, the people there seem extremely engaged. They like and expect to deal with the candidates personally. 

Paul & Kucinich at Merrimack Restaurant
I was impressed with the speed and efficiency displayed by both parties. By the time I left the caucus at a Des Moines high school, the results were being announced on the radio. A couple of weeks later I contrasted that with the problem-plagued New Mexico Democratic Caucus — which took about two weeks just to get results. After this year's razor-close Republican Caucus, in which Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum by eight votes — or did he? — Iowa's vote count didn't seem nearly as efficient. 

But the Hawkeye State still is far better at snow removal than we are. 

In New Hampshire I ate breakfast in the now-closed Merrimack Restaurant in Manchester in a booth next to the one where Ron Paul, then Dennis Kucinich were being interviewed on the radio.

Bill & Chelsea:
Can you feel the love in this room?
The day before, I had run into Chelsea Clinton in a Portsmouth coffeehouse, right before Richardson arrived for a planned appearance. 

In both Des Moines and Manchester, Richardson's concession speeches sounded more like victory speeches. He got about 5 percent in New Hampshire and 2 percent in Iowa. In Iowa he declared, "We made it to the Final Four!" I was reminded of that Tuesday night when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who came in a distant third in the GOP primary, buoyantly declared he had a "ticket to ride" out of New Hampshire. 

In his final New Hampshire speech, Richardson referred to the Nevada primary, saying, "We head out West and the fight goes on!" But even before I got off the plane in Albuquerque the next night, word had spread that Richardson was calling it quits. 

(For the record, the best concession speech in history had to have been former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris' in 1976 after a disappointing showing in New Hampshire. Harris, who since moved to Albuquerque, actually said that he'd lost because the "little people" he'd been fighting for in his campaign "couldn't reach the voting levers." He left the '76 contest not long after that. 

I must confess I was secretly hoping that former-Gov. Gary Johnson's campaign for the Republican nomination would have caught on last year so I could have at least argued with my editors that they should send me to Iowa and New Hampshire again this time. 

Blog bonus: CLICK HERE to see a bunch of my snapshots from Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008
Richardson's last rally before the NH primary