[By Eric M. Appleman -- Posted February 11, 2002] "I've made no decision about it," Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) states when asked if he is running for president, but he looked and sounded very much like a candidate during a recent three-day trip to New Hampshire, February 1-3, 2002. In his first trip to the Granite State as a U.S. Senator and possible presidential candidate, Edwards met with Democratic activists in Concord, Keene, Nashua, Portsmouth and Dover, spoke at fundraising events for state Senate Democrats and for Executive Council candidate John Kacavas, and wrapped up his trip with stops at several Super Bowl parties. His first scheduled event, a planned talk on Friday with students at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, was cancelled due to weather.
Kristin Sullivan, a real estate agent, who with her husband Chris, a lawyer, opened their Concord house on Saturday morning for a house party with Edwards, offered a typical view of the freshman North Carolina Senator. "We don't know much about him," she said as about forty neighbors, reporters, and a C-SPAN crew moved about in her home prior to the event, "but we're interested."
Edwards first task was thus to introduce himself, and he took about 13 minutes to tell guests at the Sullivans' home "a little bit about myself and my perspective on some issues, some of the issues that I care about." He then did questions and answers. The cornerstone of Edwards' speech is a place called Robbins, a town of 700-800 people in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, about 50 miles south of Greensboro, where he grew up as the son of a textile mill worker. Edwards described how the people in the mill and people like them -- "they've got their overalls on, they got grease on the side of their face and they got lint in their hair, and they've been working in that place some of 'em for years, some of 'em for decades, and I'm talking about five or six days a week, eight or ten hours a day" -- motivate him as a Senator. Edwards said that when he talks to any of the lobbyists swarming about in Washington, he thinks of those people, "Because I guarantee you they don't have a lobbyist in Washington, DC."
Ignatius MacLellan, resident of Bow, asked Edwards a question about money for social programs. Afterwards, he said that, although this was the first time he had seen Edwards, his "down home style" and attention to "bread and butter issues" had made a favorable impression.
Edwards repeated the same basic speech at later house parties in Keene and Nashua and at a house party in Dover the next day. If he does decide to throw his hat in the ring, the road will take him through countless more living rooms delivering many more such speeches. He will have to raise enough money to compete against an as yet undefined Democratic field (experts say a successful candidate will have to raise a minimum of $15 million in 2003), make many more visits to this state, to Iowa, and to other key states in the next two years, and weather a gauntlet of primaries and caucuses that begins with the Iowa caucuses, scheduled for January 19, 2004. The New Hampshire primary will be held on January 27, 2004, just less than two years away.
Of course New Hampshire has put an end to many such presidential ambitions. Walking down Elm Street in Manchester, one passes by a succession of office spaces marked by the ghosts of past campaigns. Above the landmark Merrimack Restaurant, where Edwards chatted with reporters on his first day in the state, then-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) had his headquarters in 1992; in 1996 the space was occupied by Pat Buchanan's campaign, and currently it is the headquarters of a congressional candidate named Mike Chema. Just off Elm, on Merrimack Street, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) established the base for his 2000 campaign; McCain went on to a resounding win in the New Hampshire primary before his Straight Talk Express hit a figurative firewall in South Carolina and later primaries. The erstwhile McCain headquarters is now "The Well-Doing Thrift Shop." And so it is on down Elm Street. Republican candidate Steve Forbes' 2000 headquarters is now the Hatfield Fine Art Gallery. In 1992, Democrat Jerry Brown's campaign occupied an upper floor of this building; Sen. Phil Gramm's (R-TX) 1996 headquarters was located there, and further on down was Bill Clinton's 1992 headquarters.
Edwards doesn't have some of the problems that came with Clinton. He has been married to his wife, Elizabeth, for 24 years; they have had four children, including a one-year old and a three-year old. Unlike the notoriously late Clinton, Edwards arrived on time at each stop on this trip. Yet Edwards does have some of the positive attributes of Clinton. Like Clinton he is young and from the South and seen as a rising star. Like Clinton, he talks of "people who play by the rules." While Clinton spoke of "a place called Hope," for Edwards it is "a place called Robbins."
Whether Robbins joins Hope
in the pantheon of American political lore remains to be seen. Edwards
is attracting the kind of early buzz in national political circles that
boosted Clinton and George W. Bush. On his inaugural foray into New
Hampshire he met with a lot of Democratic activists, and left many favorably
impressed. Pat Russell watched Edwards speak at the house party in
Keene from a comfortable chair in a far corner of the room. Russell,
who served as mayor of Keene from 1996-2000, put it best. "Did
I like what he had to say? Certainly. But it sure is early,"
Transcript of Remarks
and Q&A at Feb. 2 House Party in Concord
Photos from Sen. John Edwards' Trip to New Hampshire, Feb. 1-3, 2002
1... In Concord on Feb. 2, Sen. Edwards speaks at a house party at the home of Chris and Kristin Sullivan. Looking on are Chris Sullivan, a lawyer with Rath, Young & Pignatelli in Concord, Rob Werner, secretary of the Merrimack County Democratic Committee and Chair of the Grassroots Task Force, a volunteer group within the NH Democratic State Committee, and his wife Mary Ann Gaschnig.
2... At the Concord house party, Steve Rothenberg, an unidentified woman, Chris Sullivan, Rob Werner, and Mary Ann Gaschnig look on as Sen. Edwards takes a question. Werner asked a question about the economy. Rothenberg, technology coordinator for the Concord School District, did a little homework before the party. He "went on line and just started poking about" to learn a bit about Edwards. Based on his research he said that Edwards "seems like a traditional Democrat" and that "nothing I've read about him stood out." During the Q&A he asked a question about whether President Bush had adequately used the occasion of the war in Afghanistan to get Americans to think about some of the broader issues facing the country.
3... A quick stop to pick up lunch at McDonald's between house parties in Concord and Keene. Actually it was a pretty slow stop.
4... At a house party at the home of Raymond and Karen Fitzpatrick in Keene on the afternoon of Feb. 2, Sen. Edwards speaks with Pat Russell, who served as mayor of Keene from 1996-2000, and Pamela Russell Slack, a state representative since Oct. 2001. In the foreground is Greg Martin, who hosted the visit to Keene (his house was too small and the Fitzpatricks are friends of his). Martin is a Cheshire County Commissioner.
5... Sen. Edwards makes a point at the house party in Keene on the afternoon of Feb. 2.
6... At the Keene house party, Sen. Edwards' wife Elizabeth talks with Kathleen O'Donnell as daughter Colleen, age 5, looks on. Colleen presented Mrs. Edwards with several drawings.
7... In Nashua on the evening of Feb. 2, Sen. Edwards speaks at a house party at the home of Joe Foster and Marissa Baltus.
8... After a coffee with activists at Cafe Brioche in Portsmouth on the morning of Feb. 3, Sen. Edwards, flanked by state Sen. Caroline McCarley and Charlotte Observer reporter Charlie Hurt, walked to his next stop, a lunch with activists at Goldi's Deli. Edwards made a detour into a toy store to buy small gifts for his young children.
9... In Dover on the afternoon of Feb. 3, Sen. Edwards speaks at a house party at the home of Will and Carol Boc. Boc, behind Edwards in the photo, served as mayor of Dover for four years ending in January 2002.
10... Sen. Edwards talks with state Sen. Caroline McCarley after the house party in Dover. McCarley served as political director for Vice President Gore's 2000 New Hampshire primary campaign.
Sen. Edwards speaks at a fundraiser for Executive Council candidate John
Kacavas in a Manchester home late on the afternoon of Feb. 3. Kacavas
looks on. After the fundraiser, the two went to a series of Super
Bowl parties before Edwards headed to Boston. Kacavas was grateful
to Edwards for the boost his appearance provided. "That house was
full," he said the next morning. "This is a real person...this is
a man who can make connections to people," he said. "He really moves
through a crowd well," Kacavas said. Kacavas can relate to Edwards
on a couple of points; he too is a lawyer and his grandparents worked in
a mill in Lowell, Massachussetts.
Media Coverage of the Trip
Copyright © 2002 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action