NEW Hampshire is pristine country with breathtaking scenery. Even in winter, when the weather can be harsh with arctic-like temperatures, its snow-covered terrain, lakes and seaside are sights to behold.
It is little wonder that the state, with a population of just under 1.3 million, is a popular destination for tourists from all over the United States and Western Europe who spend their summer around the many picturesque lakes.
In winter, the state draws people from the metropolitan areas around Boston in Massachusetts, Providence in Rhode Island and Hartford-New Haven in Connecticut for winter sports.
In autumn, it is a popular destination for those driving through to see the brilliant fall foliage.
The state used to be the centre for the US textiles industry but in the mid-90s the mills closed down when the companies moved overseas. Now, it is strong in the manufacture of computer software. Unlike other states, it has a low unemployment rate of about 4%.
New Hampshire is very much a Republican state. Republicans outnumber Democrats 2:1, and the federal, state and town office-holders are all Republicans.
While the seven Democratic presidential hopefuls were in town for the first Democratic primary last week, President George W. Bush was so confident that he sent top Republican senators to do his campaigning.
Even without being there, he won 85% of the votes. But then, none of Republican candidates stood out. As an incumbent, the president does not have to worry about primaries.
On the other hand, the New Hampshire Democratic primary suggests the coming presidential election could turn out to be like no other, considering the huge number of people, particularly the young voters, attending the rallies, pancake gatherings and meetings to hear what the candidates had to say. And the number that voted surpassed all forecasts.
Kathleen N. Sullivan, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the expected turnout was 185,000 voters – up from 150,000 from the last primary. The final tally was 218,811.
In the last presidential election, Bush beat Al Gore by a mere 7,000 votes and many Democrats blamed Green Party’s Ralph Nader, who polled 22,000 votes, for being a spoiler.
The candidates had to cover a wide area in New Hampshire because towns were spread out. The eventual winner was John Kerry (Massachusetts), followed by Dr Howard Dean (former governor of Vermont), Gen (Rtd) Wesley Clark, John Edwards (South Carolina), Joe Lieberman (Connecticut), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and Rev Al Sharpton.
It was an experience following the Democratic campaign trail and seeing candidates practising what is called “retail” politics where people have direct contact with the candidates.
New Hampshire has always held the first primary in modern elections and people here take the process seriously. Despite the cold weather, hundreds crammed into town halls, school gyms, hotel ballrooms and even diners and pancake houses to listen to their candidates.
Herbert A. Pence, a transport consultant and resident of Manchester, New Hampshire, for the past 29 years, says everyone is looking for a candidate who can beat Bush.
He holds strong feelings about the Iraq war and the way Bush lied to the American people about the need to go to war.
However, he did not see any shift in Republican attitudes towards Bush.
His wife, Judy, had a different view.
“I think some Republicans are troubled by Bush, by the excessive spending and deficit created by his administration. Others are concerned about the attack on civil rights,” said the education consultant.
Pence said Democrat Party members were angry at the wipe-out in the 2002 mid-term elections and wanted to make up for it by working extra hard this year.
“People need dignity. President Bush has ignored the thoughts and feelings of the majority and his treatment of nations that legitimately disagreed with us is appalling.”
The US should go to the UN to internationalise the effort in Iraq as well as respect the opinions of other world leaders and governments.
“We need to work with other governments and not go it alone,” said Judy.
For far too long, the Democratic Party had not been able to draw the crowds. It was Dean, who through the Internet not only raised money for the campaign but also got young Americans involved in the process. As a result, other candidates like Kerry, Edwards and Clark have had new supporters. Whether this will translate into votes is left to be seen but these supporters are a new force in this campaign.
They come from all over the country and their presence is felt at all gatherings; at times it is difficult to pick out the local members.
Pence, who has been on the fringes of politics for 40 years, said he had never seen and felt the anger towards any administration as was being manifested today.
“The Dean campaign, for example, has volunteers coming from California, Texas, Washington State, New York and Wisconsin.
“They are not just college students. I supervised two lawyers knocking on doors. A software engineer from California, who volunteered for three days, spent US$3,000 of his own money,” added Pence.
Mark Robson, 39, of Lawrence, Kansas, has been following Clark since the general entered the race. He believes the general has what it takes to lead the country.
Joan Little and Mary Manesis, originally from New Hampshire, came all the way from San Diego, California, to show their support for Clark.
“We have been attending all his meetings and talks here,” said Manesis, who had taken leave to be on the general’s trail.
Kathleen Geraghty and her son James came all the way from Tyngsboro in Massachusetts to attend a school hall meeting where Clark spoke. She said she was impressed by what the general said.
Over at a Dean rally, Vanessa Czarnecki of Boston University said she was looking at the policies of the candidates.
“I think that change in the country is absolutely necessary,” she said.
Unfortunately, after an early promise, Dean seems to be falling further behind. His latest drawback was when he fired his young campaign manager and replaced him with a Washington insider.
From the first two rounds, Kerry appears to be the firm favourite. Tuesday’s primaries could see Kerry solidifying his position.
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