Doris Haddock, a.k.a. Granny D., the craggy 94-year-old woman who back when she was 89 walked across the country for a year and then continuously around the Capitol building for seven days to show solidarity with the purveyors of "campaign finance reform," is now looking for a reserved seat in that building. That's right, Granny D. wants to be New Hampshire's next senator, which would make her Senator D., or Senator Granny or, well, something like that. Incumbent Judd Gregg must be marveling at his luck.
Granny D. hasn't decided whether she's going to embark on any new treks during the campaign, although she won't rule it out. She speaks in bumper sticker soundbites so simplistic even most Gen-Xers wouldn't slap them on the backs of their Hondas. Decked out in a straw hat, face decorated with uneven, inch-thick swaths of lipstick, her mug is constantly in a state of scowl. She looks like she's always walking into a room that smells terrible.
In short, alas, she is not a serious candidate. All she can do for the Democratic Party is turn the election into a sideshow circus, which seems to be the only way Democrats know how to get their "message" across these days.
GREGG KICKED OFF HIS reelection campaign facing not a frail old lady, but rather a politically limp liberal. Burt Cohen is a State Senate fixture in New Hampshire who only narrowly beat a Republican opponent in 2002, when the opponent didn't even bother to campaign. Covering that 2002 race for a local newspaper, I once accompanied Cohen as he was canvassing a neighborhood. At the first house we visited, he burst in to tears at the sight of the owner's dog.
Cohen apologized, saying his own dog had passed away a couple years back and that he was overcome with emotion. After handing the confused folks a pamphlet, we moved on. I remember thinking, This guy's won six terms in the State Senate?
There isn't a single person I know in New Hampshire politics who was anything other than baffled by Cohen's challenge to Gregg. Recent polls put the Republican senator's favorability rating at 73 percent among Republicans, and 47 percent among Democrats. His campaign war chest quickly grew to four times the size of Cohen's and the election showed all the early signs of an old-fashioned stomping.
And then tragicomedy struck the weepy Democrat. Cohen's campaign manager went missing with a couple hundred thousand dollars of campaign funds, on the very day Cohen was set to file his intentions with the New Hampshire Secretary of State. The FEC promptly flooded the state with investigators, leaving the candidate with no choice but to withdraw and get a good lawyer.
"The best way to describe last week's collapse of Burt Cohen's bid for the U.S. Senate might be to call it a mercy killing," the Foster's Daily Democrat editorialized. But this created a problem for Cohen's party. Since the fallen candidate was the only "serious Democrat" in the state (and in New Hampshire we use that term lightly) willing to take on Gregg, they had one day to find a patsy. So they offered up Granny D., a kooky exhibitionist if there ever was one.
Granny D. spent most of the past year touring the country in a camper painted up like a 1960s Volkswagen bus, a pirate flag fluttering off the back antenna. "Go Granny Go" and "Vote Dammit!" were her rallying cries as she went from town to town, badgering people with jobs and feeding alligators. Before she got on her own rig, she rode with Dennis Kucinich.
Democrats, staying true to their creed of "Every One A Victim," are trying to sell Granny D. the only way they know how, as a poor "great-grandmother living on Social Security" ... and the royalties from two best-selling books (Granny D.: Walking Across America in my Ninetieth Year and Granny D.: You're Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell). How many poor old people do you know with their own brand names?
FOR HER PART in this circus, Candidate D. is planning to run on a Michael Mooreish platform. "We are being owned by the corporations and special interests," she told the AP. "We pay enough taxes so that all of us should be taken care of and yet we the people are not being taken care of."
She also promises to highlight issues that have been losers for Democrats in the Granite State for years: increased spending on welfare, socialized health-care, and pouring more taxpayer dollars into the blackened vortex of the government-run education system. And she brags about Al Gore mentioning her name at the 2000 Democratic Convention.
This, she says, is raising "a little hell," but it looks more like a good cross promotion. She just happened to draw her campaign slogan from the title of her latest book? We're supposed to believe this old gal isn't down with capitalism?
Kathy Sullivan, head of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, is telling folks that Granny D. is going to attract Nader voters and help Kerry in the state and the candidate has insisted that she's not just some "sacrificial lamb" paper candidate. This seems more than a bit of a stretch and, really, misses the point. Behind Granny D.'s folksiness, her well-publicized walks, her jabbering-like-a-magpie sloganeering, and her trademark grimace, listen closely for a bell and a metallic scrape. That's the sound of a cash register doing decent business.
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