Williams students on the campaign trail: A dead week well spent in NH

The crowd in the New Hampshire College Fieldhouse erupted as Bill Bradley, Democratic presidential candidate, approached the podium to make his final speech in the state. It had been a long day for Bradley, one during which he had traversed the entire southern tier of New Hampshire to make his final public appearances as thousands of voters made their way to the polls. It had also been a long day for the Bradley volunteers who had arrived in New Hampshire from all over the country to support the politician they believed in.

We arrived at Bradley’s headquarters in Manchester late at night the Saturday before the primary. After winding through the halls of the converted furniture warehouse, I arrived at the main lobby and immediately thought, “What did I get myself into?” People were running around in every direction, phones were ringing constantly, and I felt as if I was always in someone’s way. Little did I know that underneath this ostensible chaos was an actual organized plan which would drive the rest of the campaign.

After a 7:00 a.m. wake-up call the next day, we returned to headquarters to find out what we would be doing for the day. Our first assignment was “visibility;” a large group of college students – and there were hundreds of college students there – marched out to a busy intersection, equipped with Bradley signs. Once there, we proceeded to cause a ruckus, cheering wildly and rallying the support of pro-Bradley drivers with our “Beep Beep for Bill Bradley” signs. Shortly before we left, Bradley’s wife Ernestine came by to shake our hands and thank us for our help.

After that, five of us were dispatched to Hampton to canvas the neighborhood. Canvassing is basically door-to-door soliciting – we went to several neighborhoods and knocked on the doors of all registered Democrats and independents, attempting to discover how the voters felt about Bradley, providing information about him and distributing literature.

Initially apprehensive about interrupting these people’s lives, I soon found out that things are quite different in New Hampshire come primary season. Almost everyone I talked to was friendly, understanding (voters in New Hampshire expect extra “attention”), well-informed about the candidates and issues and extremely serious about his or her vote. I was impressed with how politically aware everyone was, coming from a state where primaries are no big deal.

After several hours of canvassing, we discovered that Bradley would be speaking at a rally at the Philips Exeter Academy in nearby Exeter. We had never heard Bradley speak and jumped at the opportunity. Before Bradley took the stage, several speakers, including two volunteers, Congressman Jim McDermott from Seattle, Harvard professor Cornel West, Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota and Senator Bob Kerrey from Nebraska, made introductory remarks. Finally it was Bradley’s turn to speak. After his speech, many of us approached the stage and had the opportunity to meet him.

The next day, after a better sleep (not on a hard gym floor), we went into downtown Nashua, the second largest city in New Hampshire, to do more visibility. We spent the morning competing with Gore volunteers for the most honks and thumbs-up from passing cars. This was the first time that I met volunteers for another campaign. Although we were at odds, we shared a passion for our respective candidates. We were drawn from different parts of the country to New Hampshire to give everything we had.

After about two hours of visibility, we returned to our base in Nashua, which was a supporter’s house. It’s remarkable that this family volunteered its home for around-the-clock pandemonium: workers coming and going, incessant phone-calls and signs all over the place. We spent the rest of the afternoon doing more canvassing and visibility in nearby towns. Then, after catching the tail end of another rally, we went to a town meeting with Ernestine and heard her speak in an intimate setting.

That evening we rested up for the overnight door-hanging campaign. At 11 p.m., it finally came. A group of us went to Salem to place hundreds of fliers on people’s doorknobs; we did this until 2:30 a.m. I did not like this part of the campaign at all – I felt like a criminal lurking around in the dark, running up and down different driveways. We returned to the Boys and Girls Club of Nashua where we were being housed at 3:30 a.m. and were awakened at 5 a.m.; primary day had arrived.

At about 6:30 a.m., running solely on adrenaline, we went out to a polling site at Merrimack where Bradley was due to appear. He arrived around 8 a.m. and was greeted not only by our group of cheerleaders but also by a mob of reporters and cameramen. While standing near the head of the school’s driveway, I saw a car decorated with “Gary Bauer for President” stickers pull in. To my surprise, the window opened, and there was Gary Bauer – we said hello, and he wished us luck.

The rest of that very long day was spent either driving back and forth to different polling places to do last-minute visibility or making phone calls to remind registered Democrats to vote, informing them where their polling place was, and offering them a ride if needed. It was an exhausting day, yet it was also a special one. While spending my hours at the various sites, I was afforded the opportunity to meet and talk to many local Bradley supporters, voters, more supporters from the other campaigns, and really get a feel for what the New Hampshire primary means to the people who live there. Finally, at 8 p.m. the polls closed.

Our hard work was over, and it was time to return to Manchester for the big party. As we drove there, we wondered whether it would be a victory or concession party. Although it turned out to be a concession, I was not overly discouraged. I had learned a tremendous amount about the political process, the candidates, the issues, the state of New Hampshire, and what really goes on in a campaign behind closed doors; and I had spent my time with friendly and interesting people who made it a quick and enjoyable three days. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to work on the Bradley campaign and will remember those three intense days forever.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *