John Edwards and Wesley Clark in New Hampshire, January 25, 2004

Published: 01/25/04

I went to New Hampshire with three friends on Sunday, January 25, 2004, to attend campaign events for John Edwards and Wesley Clark.

John Edwards
We arrived at the junior high school in Nashua about ten minutes early. We went into the school cafeteria where a crowd had already gathered. The average age of the crowd members was probably close to 40 and many families were present.

A few minutes after we arrived, a campaign volunteer told us that the cafeteria was the overflow room and that another room in the school was where Edwards would make his speech. I asked her if he was running on time and was here already and she said she didn’t know and that the speech was supposed to begin at 12 pm. Though she said it like it wasn’t noon yet, it was already 12:15. We asked if his speech was going to be piped into the cafeteria and she said she didn’t know. There was a chance Edwards might come into the cafeteria after he finished speaking and would at least show his face, if not give a short version of his speech.

I overheard an African American man talking to a reporter: “One of the things I really like about coming up here to see the candidates is the opportunity to see them unpolished by the television.”

The crowd contined to grow as we waited. It at least doubled in size and for a while, people were shoulder to shoulder where I was standing. I didn’t count the people, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there were about 1,000 people packed into that room. I don’t know how many were in the other room.

The campaign volunteer confirmed that Edwards would give a short version of his speech in this room since they were unable to pipe the audio in, so we decided to wait around for it instead of going to a nearby Wesley Clark event beginning soon.

A woman stood in the middle of the floor and began speaking. I couldn’t hear most of what she was saying or see her, but it sounded like she was talking about reasons why she and her daughters were choosing to vote for Edwards. She also mentioned something about the actress Glenn Close. After a while, someone handed the woman a microphone and she continued talking about John Edwards, then launched into a diatribe about the state of the Democratic party today. I kept thinking: “I came here to learn about the candidate.I don’t really want to hear some woman’s interpretation of America’s political problems.” Maybe in the introduction I didn’t hear, she identified herself and explained why she’s authorized to speak on Edwards’ behalf. The crowd grew more and more restless as she spoke and began to carry on their interrupted conversations.

The reporter in front of me interviewed a guy from Rock the Vote. He said he’s ex-military and is trying to convince the candidates that the vote of young people is important. He mentioned that Dennis Kucinich is holding a rave that afternoon to reach younger voters. I asked him for some Rock the Vote stickers and put one on.

Then the woman began talking about age discrimination in politics. People don’t think Edwards can do an adequate job because he’s younger than many men who have been president. She mentioned that Bill Clinton was in his 40s when he was elected and that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, like Edwards, in his early 50s.

Someone then asked a question about what she would do as first lady. It’s then that I realize the woman speaking must be Edwards’ wife.

Edwards came into the room at about 1:15 pm, more than an hour later than when we thought we’d see him. Instead of standing on the stage on one end of the cafeteria, he stands in the middle of the crowd where many people, including me, cannot see him. (I get most of my news from the radio or online sources that don’t include images, so I haven’t seen a photo of him or his wife. One of the reasons why I was interested in going to a campaign event for him is so that I can see him.)

He acknowledged the presence of groups like the Sierra Club and Rock the Vote. He spoke against Bush’s tax cuts, about improving foreign policy, race issues, and “lifting up the American people” to let them know the future could be better. He grew up in the South during segregation and shared a story about how his sixth grade teacher announced to his class that he was quitting because the school was being integrated and he refused to teach at an integrated school. Edwards wants to bring in hope. He doesn’t think peole’s families or skin color should determine their future. He spoke for about seven minutes and did not take questions from the audience.

After he finished, I noticed the press mobbing him as he was leaving the room. I walked up to try to get a glimpse of him, but all I saw was the back of his head as he walked out the back door.

I’m trying not to let my negative experience at the event color my thoughts of him, but I’m afraid my notes may reflect the disappointment I feel at how things were handled. I know nothing about Edwards and was hoping to learn something substantive about him as a candidate at this event. All I know is that he isn’t happy with how the country is currently being run and that he thinks certain things are problems. He didn’t talk about fixing anything or what he would like to do as president in the seven minutes he addressed us. I didn’t see any campaign literature, either.

A fellow blogger, Marc Nozell, was able to get inside to see Edwards.

Wesley Clark
We arrived at the college gym about an hour before Clark was scheduled to appear to make sure we could get inside. Shortly before the event was scheudled to begin, Clark supporters began distributing posters and signs to audience members, like “Undecided voters for Clark” and “All patriot, no act.” They led us in cheers like “u Wes a” and “fix the mess, vote for Wes.” I estimate that 300 people filled the gym, but my view was obscured by a platform of media cameras. There were lots of young people, perhaps because the event was on a college campus, and more minorities than I’ve noticed at other events, though there are still very few. Some of the people near us came from New Jersey and Massachusetts. Peppy, but older music played while we waited, including Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I never thought I’d hear that at a political rally.

A number of young people and children walked onto the risers on the stage around 5 pm, then Clark’s wife, Gert, and a few others took the stage. Gert introduced the guests. She looked much better than when I first saw her about a month ago. She thanked the supporters, then let the guests speak. David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York City, talked about Clark’s efforts to encourage diversity and diversify the Army. South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges spoke about how Clark is going to win that state. Gail Kruzel told about her husband’s relationship with Clark and how they worked together in the Balkans. Her husband, Joe, died when the vehicle he was traveling in drove off a cliff. Clark repelled down the cliff to try to save the people in the vehicle, but it was too late. He did, however, return her husband’s wedding ring to her when his body arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. That ring has become a family treasure. Then, Charlie Rangle talked about the conflict in Iraq and wondered why we went after Saddam when Osama is still out there somewhere.

Clark hugged and kissed his wife when he came on stage. He gave some introductory remarks, then pulled Gail aside before the guests left the stage. He told us about his relationship with Joe and shared a story about how they jumped off a third-floor balcony into a Mediterranean harbor while attending important political talks. He joked that since he and Joe attended military colleges, they thought along the same lines like that.

Clark emphasized leadership in the beginning of his speech. He shared his military background with us. He went to West Point because he wanted to serve our country. He was a captain during the Vietnam Conflict and was wounded. He honors veterans. To a president, patriotism, he related, is to protect Americans and the essence of America. The president should keep us safe and strong, but only use war as a last resort. He critized Bush for not protecting us before 9/11. Bush’s actions are bad leadership, he said.

Then he focused on family values, but not family values in the way most people think of them. He claimed that Bush doesn’t have family values becasuse his policies neglect families. Family values begin with employment. Caring for the environment is also a family value. By putting Americans back to work, making polluters pay, reinstating environmental law, enabling more people to attend college, raising the minimum wage to $7 an hour, revising the tax system, reducing the deficit, and changing the prescription drug plan to make it legal for people to buy drugs in Canada, we can improve our country’s family values. He also mentioned how he had to do many things, like rebuild car engines himself instead of buying new cars, because of his own financial situations, so he knows what it’s like not to have much money.

Several audience members asked tough questions during the brief question and answer period. There are no mics in the audience, so the people yelled their questions, then Clark repeated them into his microphone.

  • Can he cut the link between lobbyists’ money and Congress?
    Voters should know about their political representatives’ finances, he said. He has made his own records open and challenged other candidates to be as open about their finances as he is.

  • Some people are making a big deal about Clark’s forced retirement from NATO. What is the situation?
    Clark replied that he had a policy disagreement with the person running NATO. He was a Republican.

  • Why did it take Clark so long to become a Democrat?
    He has lived Democratic values long before changing his party affiliation. If we want to win the next election, he opined, we have to convince others to change parties, too.

  • What is Clark’s philosophy of government? What will he do to restore the system of checks and balances that other politicians seem to be trying to eliminate?
    Clark wants to appoint judges based on their belief in the law, not based on what agenda they’re trying to push. He claimed he isn’t supported by special interests or lobbyists. His previous experience exposed him to government processes and made him familiar with government workings. He will encourage others to reveal their finances.

  • What will he do about corporate crime?
    He will work to stop white collar crime. Everyone benefits from honest business, he stated. With a good attorney-general, his administration can take strong steps to investigate corporations and prosecute executives partaking in illegal activities.

Clark closed by talking about how our nation is at risk. A closed administration is a threat to democracy. He thinks he’s a better candidate that some of the others because he hasn’t held a political position before. He doesn’t have the Washington history and ties to lobbyists some of the other candidates do. He mentioned that the last time he was in an election, he was in high school. He and his best friend were nominated to the same position on the student government. He voted for his friend, then learned that his friend won by one vote. He asked his friend if he had voted for him. His friend admitted that he had voted for himself. Clark said he learned his first important political lesson that day. He plans to vote for himself this time.

He was very energetic tonight. He’s losing his voice from all the speaking he’s been doing, but he didn’t let that quiet him down. He joked about it, too. He said, “They say the first thing to go is your voice. Your handshake goes next. I don’t want to know what the third thing that goes is.” The crowd was also quite alive. There was much applause and cheering during the speech.

I overheard someone say that she’ll vote for Clark if he’ll campaign in Massachusetts.

I have now seen all of the candidates except Al Sharpton. Maybe he’ll come to Massachusetts.

More coverage of campaign events is in the stories section.

More political coverage by the Thursday night bloggers is on the Berkman Thursday meetings blog.

Disclaimer: I am reporting on events as I saw them. I am not endorsing any particular candidate through these reports and will try to refrain from endorsing or favoring any particular candidate on this blog.

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