MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Judging that the presidential election will be close this fall, John Kerry and his supporters are resorting to shameless regional pandering. You probably saw that Kerry, speaking in Nevada recently, fished for votes there by opposing the storage of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain. One pander you probably have not seen is the Democrats' attempt to blackmail New Hampshire voters.
Every four years, New Hampshire hosts America's first presidential primary. The small state of 1.3 million citizens is so proud of this coveted role in national politics that the legislature has passed a law mandating that the presidential primary be held before any other state's. Though it is a solidly Republican state by voter registration, New Hampshire has not been enamored with President Bush. The state is very much in play this year, and the Kerry campaign is going after any advantage it can get. In an ugly attempt to claim the state's four electoral votes, which Bush won by 7,211 votes in 2000, Democrats this summer have hinted that a vote for Bush is a vote to do away with the state's first-in-the-nation primary.
Democrats have not-so-quietly spread the word that President Bush would let the state lose its coveted status because the state went for McCain over Bush in the 2000 Republican primary. Kerry, having won the 2004 Democratic primary, owes New Hampshire big and would return the favor if New Hampshire votes for him this fall, so the Democrat-spread rumor goes.
The ploy began in January, just days after the primary, when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told the Union Leader, New Hampshire's only state-wide newspaper, that to keep the primary, "New Hampshire needs to make itself a blue state in November 2004."
At the Democratic National Convention in Boston, only a half-hour drive from the New Hampshire border, Kerry surrogates were sure to give the impression that the fate of the primary depends on who wins the White House this fall.
"I know if John Kerry were elected it would protect" the primary, said Bill Shaheen, husband of former N.H. governor and current Kerry campaign chairman Jeanne Shaheen. "President Bush is not crazy about New Hampshire," he warned.
"It would certainly be a lot easier to articulate our position if there were a President Kerry," said Ray Buckley, a prominent New Hampshire Democrat and state representative.
Ironically, it is the Democratic Party that is the real threat to the New Hampshire primary. While Republicans have no plans to switch the primary calendar, Michigan Democrats, with the strong backing of Sen. Carl Levin, are trying to get their party to hold its first presidential primary in their state. Prominent Democrats such as Jesse Jackson and Terry McAuliffe have voiced support for having the first primary in a more racially diverse state. (New Hampshire is 98 percent white).
This makes the strategy to blackmail New Hampshire so absurd on its face that even some high-profile state Democrats have refused to play along. Robert Baines, Democratic mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city, was a key Kerry supporter early in the primary. If Kerry is elected, Baines, a former high school principal, is considered a shoo-in for a post in the Department of Education. During the Boston convention, Baines said President Bush was no threat to the New Hampshire primary.
"I think the merits of the primary stand on their own feet regardless of some of the jealousy that may be out there," he said. "I'm confident that President Bush would stand up for it, and President Kerry would stand up for the New Hampshire primary."
Baines, of course, is right. But that has not stopped other prominent Democrats from spreading unfounded rumors that the state's first-in-the-nation status would be seriously jeopardized by a second Bush term.
The ruse apparently has given Kerry little traction, and Democrats have stopped repeating it in the press lately. Granite Staters are a pretty politically sophisticated bunch thanks to the New Hampshire primary, and they are adept at sniffing out political lies. But the obvious attempt at blackmail is enough to make one wonder what other tricks the Democrats have up their sleeves for September and October.
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