Presidential Hopefuls Stump in Early Primary States

Presidential candidates seize Labor Day of an election year to catch voters while they're at barbecues, picnics and parades. But with states rushing to move up their primaries, Labor Day — 14 months before the vote — has become its own kickoff.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Labor Day is the traditional start of the political campaign season. Only this Labor Day was not quite so traditional. You'd expect this to be the start of the most intense campaigning for this November. Instead, the holiday in 2007 was a moment to aim at 2008.

MONTAGNE: Many states are rushing to hold their presidential primaries early. And yesterday many candidates turned up in Iowa and New Hampshire - two states determined to hold the earliest voting no matter how early that may be.

We have two reports starting in New Hampshire, where NPR's David Greene attended the parade in Milford.

DAVID GREENE: Let's be clear. The Labor Day parade in Milford is most famous for its pig roast, not for any politicians who show up. Still, the campaigns view the parade as a big opportunity to court voters. This is serious business.

Supporters for Democrat Chris Dodd are getting ready for the parade by painting their hair.

Unidentified Man #1 (Senator Chris Dodd Supporter): Spray painting hair white. Just like Senator Dodd. White hair equals wisdom.

GREENE: Chris Dodd is a senator from nearby Connecticut. And he's brought a boisterous crowd to the parade.

GROUP: Ah yes, D-O-D-D. Chris Dodd. C-H-R-I-S D-O-D-D. Chris Dodd.

GREENE: Attorney Dan Russo says it's all about Dodd's three decades in Congress.

Mr. DAN RUSSO (Attorney): He has the experience that we need. We can't afford to have somebody that needs on the job training.

GREENE: Roseau says never mind Dodd is trailing behind in the polls.

Mr. ROSEAU: Most of the national polls now are simply, you know, glamour, popularity contests. They have nothing to do with the actual voters - prime voters who will come out to vote in January.

GREENE: Though it's not the best metaphor when a horde of musicians wearing Barack Obama shirts suddenly walks up and drowns Russo out.

This Obama band is getting in your way of talking.

Mr. ROSEAU: Yes, but I was going to say that Dodd may be against the war, but he's totally in support of the troops.

(Soundbite of drumming)

GREENE: Political types are not the only ones marching. It is, after all, youth football season.

GROUP: (Chanting) Here we go (unintelligible). Here we go.

GREENE: For the candidates, the parade is a chance to wave, shake hands, and show they were ready to sweat under the New Hampshire sun. They saved their speeches for other stuff.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Thank you so much. Happy Labor Day, everybody. Happy Labor Day.

GREENE: Obama shows up at a rally in Manchester and he plays a lot of defense against attacks from the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Clinton has been critiquing Obama's campaign themes of hope and change. She says to really bring change, a president has got to have experience. Obama fires back by mocking how Clinton portrays him.

Sen. OBAMA: Oh, there he goes. He's talking about hope again. He is so naive. He's a hope peddler. He's a hope monger. Well, I say I'm guilty as charged. I am hopeful about America.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: He says people like Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showed that long resumes say nothing about character. And Obama is clearly suggesting Hillary Clinton is just such a Washington insider.

Sen. OBAMA: They've got better connections. They go to the right dinner parties. They know how to talk the Washington talk. I might not have the experience Washington likes, but I believe I have the experience America needs right now.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: If Obama spends his Labor Day responding to Hillary Clinton, she's also on the mind of Republican Mitt Romney, who summons reporters in Milford.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): Hillary Clinton was here yesterday in New Hampshire talking about changing America. And there's no question in my mind, she would do her best to change America.

GREENE: But Romney says it's not the kind of change he'd be looking for.

Mr. ROMNEY: She would raise taxes on the American people. That's not the change we want. She'd also give amnesty to illegal aliens. That's not the change we want. She would also have the government take over our health care system. That's not the change we want.

GREENE: Clearly, Hillary Clinton and her message are under the skin of some other candidates. So much so that she became a big part of Labor Day in New Hampshire, even though she was nowhere nearby.

David Greene, NPR News, Manchester.

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