No, not regarding the recent primary results. More like four years ago. I wrote a few blog entries while I was working in New Hampshire in 2004, but a recent “Can you believe it’s been four years already?” e-mail from a fellow campaign intern started me on this. I don’t have a candidate for this primary, as none of them appeal to me (yet), but all of the recent media coverage made me think, “Damn, I kinda miss that place.”
I arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire on January 7, 2004, loaded down with a duffel bag stuffed with recently acquired winter gear and only a vague idea of what I would be doing for a month. Three of my friends from GW were waiting outside the security checkpoint, Clark signs in hand, to take me to campaign headquarters. They had spent part of their winter break working for the campaign and had sent back amazing reports of what it was like working “in the trenches” of a Presidential primary. I couldn’t wait to get out there.
Being in New Hampshire at that time was a political science major’s dream. This was the real deal, the ideal place for a political junkie fresh out of college. I was hardcore into politics while at George Washington University (naturally, with GW’s location, most GW students were), and spent a considerable amount of time with the College Democrats roaming the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland every weekend to drum up support for whatever Democratic candidate was running. Most of them lost. General Wesley Clark was my man for the 2004 Presidential primary, and I spent my last semester at GW working with GW for Clark and DC for Clark on various events and fundraisers. I had decided to graduate from GW a semester early, and, suddenly without a job, still awaiting a decision from LSE, and generally having no direction in life, I signed on as an intern for the Clark campaign in New Hampshire.
After checking in at campaign headquarters, and then becoming sidetracked with a flat tire in the freezing cold weather, we arrived at the campaign housing, affectionately known as the “slophouse.” It was a two bedroom, one bath apartment that was completely devoid of furniture and contained only a few moldy kitchen appliances. There were about 20 people living there, with suitcases, sleeping bags, and other personal items strewn throughout the apartment. It was a difficult place to sleep, what with the hardwood floors, unreliable heating, and dozens of people snoring loudly. Compared to this, my dorm room back in Moscow was like a suite at the Ritz Carlton.
Early next morning we were back at headquarters with little to do except drink coffee and eat Dunkin’ Donuts. Too many interns, not enough assignments to go around. Field office directors were in Manch that day, loading up on supplies and trolling for volunteers to man their understaffed offices. A director from the Lakes Region asked me if I’d be willing to work up there. I was a bit hesitant, considering that Manch was the epicenter of the state’s political activity, but HQ was overrun with interns who had nothing to do, and the promise of a comfortable bed sealed the deal (I’m easily swayed by certain comforts).
And what a bed it was. I graduated from the “Slophouse” to “Clarkingham Palace”, a large 18th- century farmhouse in Alton Bay that served as a vacation rental during the warmer summer months. Along with a field director, there were four of us interns living there, and we each had our own bedroom with a nice full-size bed, in addition to a TV, full kitchen, laundry, and maid service – definitely the nicest accommodations I’ve ever had while on a campaign, and a refreshing place to crash after a long day of work.
It really was a farmhouse
Our Laconia office was staffed by two full-time field directors, four interns, and a retired couple who drove up from Georgia to lend a hand for a few weeks. We had a lot of help from the locals, who came in to the office to assist with phone banking, letter writing, and occasionally feeding us delicious home-cooked meals. A few college groups drove up on weekends, but they were practically useless, as they spent most of their time on “breaks” getting drunk at Applebee’s and roaming the aisles of the New Hampshire state liquor store.
Updating the MS Access voter database – the less glamorous side of campaign work
Phone banking, even worse
The work we performed was more or less the typical assignments you encounter on any campaign (phone banking, visibility, lit drops, etc) and we worked 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week out of the field office in Laconia, about a half hour drive from the farmhouse. I subsisted primarily on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Mountain Dew, and Clark Bars (get it?) and found myself performing incredibly bizarre (to me, at least) activities, like pounding gigantic 4×8 signs into frozen snow and lugging 20 gallons of pancake mix around the Belknap Mill. When the temperature was tolerable (i.e, not in the negatives) we were loaded down with pamphlets and American Son DVDs (the short documentary on Clark) and handed neighborhood maps. We were supposed to knock on the doors of registered voters and hand all this stuff out. If I lived in New Hampshire, I’d probably get pretty sick of all these out of state people knocking on my door, but they were all very friendly. Some of them mentioned I looked really cold and invited me in for hot chocolate or coffee. I was a bit shocked, as we don’t generally invite random door-knocking strangers into our houses back in California, and the whole thing seemed to be the making of a horrible Lifetime movie.
“Are you people CRAZY?!” I wanted to shout at them. “I could be an axe murder. Do you think I’m crazy? You could be an axe murderer! But please, take this free Clark DVD and consider voting for the General.”
Managed to acquire some Howard Dean propaganda while on a lit drop
Putting those kindergarten coloring skills to use
That month in New Hampshire was the coldest weather I had ever experienced in my life. Temperatures often dipped into the negatives, and it got to the point where 20 degrees seemed like a warm, brisk temperature. As someone who grew up in an area where winter temperatures averaged in the 70s, I was completely fascinated by the place. How could someone live in this weather, year after year? Why doesn’t everyone just pack up and move to Arizona? And what’s with all the shrinkwrapped boats?
The region that we were responsible for included Lake Winnipesaukee, which covers 69 square miles of New Hampshire. Every day we would pass hundreds of boats that had been pulled out of the now frozen lake and shrinkwrapped in a blue plastic material. It’s not something you see in San Diego or Orange County, so I found it intriguing. While on a lit drop one day, I nearly drove Paul crazy, as I would not shut up about the shrinkwrapped boats. “Dude, that looks so weird! How do you think they do that?!” At one point, he turned the car down a side road and stopped in front of a boat repair and supply center. “I am sick of hearing about this shrinkwrapping! Get out of the car!” Inside the store were three older guys talking about…well, probably boats, I guess. They eyed us suspiciously and asked if we needed anything.
“Well, go ahead and ask them!”
“Yeah, uh, I was just wondering…how do you shrinkwrap boats?”
They explained the process (it apparently involves a heat gun of some sort) and then asked where we were from. Obviously, if I was asking about shrinkwrapping boats I couldn’t have been a local, and the Clark button outed me as yet another carpetbagging campaign worker.
“California, near Palm Springs.”
“Palm Springs, eh? I hear it’s nothin’ but rich people out there. That true?”
“Uh, no. Well, we should probably get back to work. Thanks!”
They were dyed in the wool Republicans, anyways. There was no use in trying to convert them.
Rallying outside the candidate’s debate
In addition to lit drops, phone banking, and visibility we were usually planning and staffing events meant to introduce the candidate to local voters. This is when our schedules were the most intense, but at the same time it was the most enjoyable part of working on the campaign. One day, we were out of the house at 6am to plant a ton of Clark ’04 signs along the highway and then off to the Belknap Mill to prep for the pancake breakfast that Clark was speaking at. Do you have any idea how much time it takes to make pancakes for 300 hungry voters? A LOT. Immediately after the breakfast we headed to the Holderness Central School to do setup for a “Conversation with Clark” town hall event, and following that, we were off to another Clark rally with 2,000 in attendance. By the end of the day I could recite his stump speech word for word.
Pancake breakfast prep
Met up with Jon, Chad, and Marcus at the Pembroke rally while they were on a campaign trip with GW for Clark
Our final event with Clark was held the evening before the primary. He was following a grueling schedule that would have him swinging through all ten of New Hampshire’s counties to thank his supporters and sway any undecided voters. Each field office was tasked with securing a location for the event, building an attendees list, and taking care of all the logistics. We decided to hold our event, for whatever reason, at the farmhouse we had been living in for the past month, and crammed a large group of locals and members of the press into the first floor of the house.
“Dude, the General’s coming to the farmhouse? Guess I should make my bed.”
Later that night, as we were driving back from the office (yes, it was back to the office for a few hours of work after the farmhouse event) we heard over the radio that Clark had won Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location, the two small towns in New Hampshire where the polls open at midnight and close several minutes later after the dozen or so residents have cast their votes. We took it as a very positive sign and a possible foreshadowing of the next day’s results (especially considering that only a few minutes prior to that, the local radio was playing Outkast’s “Hey Ya”, our unofficial campaign song).
It was not to be so, however. After a long and final day of last minute phone calls and visibility in single digit temperatures, we drove down to Manch for the rally with Clark. After all our work, Clark placed third, ahead of John Edwards only by the skin of his teeth. I was disappointed, of course, but even more so than usual (by that time I had become accustomed to working for losing candidates) because out of all the candidates I’ve worked for, he was the only one I’ve ever truly admired. Clark was a brilliant man, but he wasn’t a seasoned politician and was hampered by several missteps and infighting that plagued the early days of the campaign. That following morning I caught a flight back to California. The campaign moved on to South Carolina, hoping for a strong finish in that Southern state’s February 3rd primary. Many of Clark’s supporters remained optimistic following the results in New Hampshire, and I tried to be as well, but as I sat in the terminal waiting for my flight home, I felt that the campaign was over for us. Two weeks later, it officially was.