Democrats Raise Rhetoric for New Hampshire

Democratic presidential candidates campaign in New Hampshire in hopes of winning the nation's first primary. Hillary Clinton is in another tight race against Barack Obama but pledges to stay in the race. Obama is accused of creating a sense of false hope because of lack of experience.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As most of the Republicans debated yesterday, Democrats were campaigning. And let's check in with two of our correspondents. They've been tracking two leading candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. NPR's David Greene has been following the Clinton campaign. What is she saying now that she's not leading in the polls in New Hampshire?

DAVID GREENE: Well, she is sounding a little more negative, Steve. You know, Hillary Clinton came out to a high school in Nashua yesterday and she really went after Barack Obama. Now, she doesn't bring up his name specifically, but she says things like that you want a doer, not a talker to be president. She also suggested in a debate here on Saturday night that he might be bringing false hope to the American people.

I think there's a little frustration in the Clinton camp that, you know, Barack Obama criticizes her for her votes on Iraq, but then, you know, he voted for Iraq war funding.

And also, there is now an issue that the Clinton campaign is trying to make. Barack Obama often talks about Clinton's ties to lobbyists, and it turns out that the co-chairman of Barack Obama's campaign, Jim Demers in New Hampshire, has done some lobbying work for the pharmaceutical industry. So Clinton starting to take a more negative approach now, getting close.

INSKEEP: Okay. So that's what the Clinton campaign is saying. NPR's Don Gonyea is following Barack Obama. How does he respond to all this?

DON GONYEA: Well, first, let's talk about that issue of false hope that has been leveled at him by the Clinton campaign that David just talked about. He has seized on that. He's out on the stump now saying false hope, false hope, what is that? What is a candidate supposed to be talking about? What is a candidate supposed to be trying to give the American people?

When John Kennedy talked about going to the moon, he said, did John Kennedy say, well, it's really far out there, so we shouldn't get our hopes up too high. So Obama has seized on that.

Now, he has also responded - his campaign has responded directly to the charges that he's being hypocritical by having a lobbyist as his campaign co-chair in - here in New Hampshire, Mr. Demers. It is true that Demers is a lobbyist, and he does have clients that include pharmaceutical companies.

But here is the distinction the Obama campaign is drawing. His communications director, Robert Gibbs, says Demers is a state lobbyist who does not do business involving any federal legislation or federal regulation, and that the campaign has drawn a distinction between lobbyists who are registered to work at the state level and those who lobby the federal government. And they say that, you know, a ban on lobbying money and PAC money is far from perfect, but there is a distinction that's worth being drawn here.

INSKEEP: Gentlemen, I want to ask about another candidate here. But first, I want to just follow up here. Clinton's campaign has suggested that the media have been going easy on Barack Obama. Any sense of that from the press corps there?

GREENE: I think so. And this is not the first time. There's a legacy, Steve, of the Clintons not feeling like they are being treated exactly fairly in the media.

And as we were flying here with the campaign from Iowa to New Hampshire, it was a sleepless night, in part because a lot of Clinton's advisers were up trying to talk about the plan for Iowa, the plan for New Hampshire. And what they started saying was, you know, there's a lot more to learn about Barack Obama. We think you should be asking tougher questions. And now that the polls are suggesting that the Clinton is indeed in a tough fight here against Obama to win, and maybe even trailing, that strategy is starting to play out. The campaign did a conference call with reporters yesterday where they were saying, you know, there are a lot of questions you should be asking about Barack Obama. You should be, you know, digging in more. So I think there's a real frustration that the media is not doing its job when it comes to Barack Obama.

INSKEEP: And let me…

GONYEA: And that's from the Clinton campaign. And, you know, there are a lot of stories out there that we've done about Barack Obama that the media continues to do. And there are plenty of stories yet to be done, certainly.

INSKEEP: Okay. We'll continue to be listening for that. And let me just ask very briefly about another candidate, John Edwards. Where does he fit into this? In a debate on Saturday night, he almost seemed to be tag-teaming with Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton.

GREENE: Well, and Edwards denies that he is necessarily teaming up, but he certainly - it was a striking moment, and a tough moment for Hillary Clinton, to have two other top candidates in the race kind of gang up on her. And you can sort of see Edwards perhaps sensing some vulnerability with Hillary Clinton at this morning.

INSKEEP: Okay, gentlemen, thanks very much. NPR's David Greene, appreciate it. And NPR's…

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: …Don Gonyea as well. NPR's Don Gonyea as well in New Hampshire this morning, thank you very much.

GONYEA: All right. Take care.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue following the voting here that begins on Tuesday, the New Hampshire primary, the first primary election of the campaign season for Democrats and Republicans alike.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

New Hampshire Campaign Goes Door to Door

Video: Canvassing in NH
David Gilkey/NPR

Don't be fooled by the pretty pictures of campaign rallies in New Hampshire.

Sure, you can be mesmerized by the banners and balloons and the sing-song cadence of the candidates. But none of that gets people to the polls on primary day.

Voters in New Hampshire need the personal touch. The phone call, the handshake, the knock on the door. Every campaign has compiled a list of the people who are likely to support their candidate. The names are culled from events and Internet lists and secret marketing databases. Even in these high-tech days of voter profiling and targeted e-mail, there's no better way to reach out to those people than by standing on their front stoop.

I went out with video producer David Gilkey to learn the art of street-level politics, and it wasn't hard to find the experts. On just about every cold sidewalk in New Hampshire is someone with a clipboard, carrying campaign literature and peering up at house numbers.

We chose to tag along with two volunteers from the John Edwards campaign as they knocked on doors in Portsmouth, but we could have picked any campaign, any town. We ran into canvassers for Bill Richardson and Barack Obama. I saw a team of women with Hillary Clinton signs heading up the next street. It's crowded with true believers out there.

In the end, we found that there are only a few tricks you need to learn to do this job. Wear sturdy shoes and two pairs of socks. Don't stand too close to the door when it opens. And be relentlessly upbeat. The guys we were out with never argued with voters; they just asked some gentle questions and reminded them to vote on Tuesday. But that may be enough. Political operatives believe that you can increase the likelihood that people will vote for a candidate by investing those voters in a campaign. Hand them buttons. Provide lawn signs. And most effectively, send a neighbor over to ask them if they are committed to vote for the candidate. Come Election Day, the voter won't want to disappoint the team.

Or that's the theory anyway. On the other side of the door, the constant stream of phone calls and door-knocks can drive a voter nuts. Even though we got to the front porch of Melissa Costa by 11 a.m., she had already received three campaign calls and two personal visits. She admitted that sometimes she just turns her hearing aid off and goes upstairs to avoid the politics. But most of the time, she opens the door and lets the volunteers give it their best shot.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.