Notes from New Hampshire, Day 5

From Hudson, New Hampshire –

Super Bowl Sunday in the Granite State was not only a day for football, but also an opportunity for voters from this state to get out and sample the candidates for President, as Republicans tried to digest Saturday night’s debate showdown between Marco Rubio and Chris Christie and its impact on the GOP race.

“When the lights go on, I told you he wouldn’t be ready,” Christie told a morning town hall meeting in Hampton, New Hampshire, which like almost every other event in the state, was filled to capacity.

As I wrote in a story about this event, my first interview of the day was with a guy who had been leaning to Rubio – until Christie owned him during the Saturday night debate.

“I thought his performance last night was outstanding,” said Leland Van Oss told me about Christie. “I think that took him from also-ran to one of the big players in the game.”

For reporters, the Christie event was like many here in New Hampshire – not only in a town with bad cell phone coverage, but absolutely no connectivity to the internet inside – leaving us wondering for two hours what was going on in the GOP race.

I popped outside into the sun a few times to check my phone; the young coed guarding the door was a student from St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, where the GOP debate had taken place the night before.

Like many students, she had gotten involved with a campaign, and was clearly loving life.

“It has been so much fun,” she told me while directing people into the Christie event.

The room was jammed not only with people there to see Christie, but also a lot of TV cameras, reporters and even a tracker from the American Bridge PAC, which keeps tabs on Republicans.

In the middle of that photo, taking notes with his distinctive old style black glasses, was Don Gonyea of NPR – when I needed to get out of the event early, Don was nice enough to help pull my audio line out of the mult box, so I didn’t have to climb over all sorts of people to get there.

Out of the Christie event, I did the usual in the parking lot – sit in the passenger seat, voice my stories, edit them, and file to my stations.

After getting gas and a snack, I had just enough time to get to the Rubio event to see how his debate fumble was playing.

The event was at a Alvirne High School in Hudson; I have certainly been there in past campaigns to cover candidates, like one time I remember throwing my rental car into a snow bank and rushing in to hear then Gov. George W. Bush.

I was pinned in the back behind the TV cameras at this event, unable to scramble out to get a photo of Rubio’s arrival. So I shot it through the window (and the screen on it).

If you hadn’t watched the debate the previous night, you would not have known there was a big question about Rubio’s performance; the place was packed.

I did have to chuckle when I checked out the crowd sitting behind Rubio – there was a balding guy with a beard there – I had interviewed him the day before at a Jeb Bush event.

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The guy wasn’t a New Hampshire voter – instead he was up here from Connecticut, one of many ‘political tourists’ who come to the Granite State to check out the candidates.

But he managed to get himself on the TV news, right behind Rubio.

My plan had been to cover Christie, Rubio and then John Kasich on Sunday – but Rubio’s delay ruined those plans – I needed to get my blog posted and file my regular radio stories.

I got a good laugh when I got out in the parking lot, as someone had done a little campaign work, printing out the front page of the Boston Herald newspaper, and leaving it on car windshields:

I took a photo of that and was ready to start filing, when I realized that I had just made a rookie mistake – my laptop battery was dying.

So, off to McDonald’s I went – along with about five other reporters who showed up there – there’s nothing that can’t be solved by combining burgers, fries and electricity.

As I headed back to my hotel to watch the Super Bowl, I figured out that this was the third Super Bowl that I have watched while on the road covering a political campaign.

The first was in 2000, when Bill Bradley went so long in his Sunday afternoon campaign event in New Hampshire, that people started leaving to go watch the game.

The second was in 2004, when I missed the “wardrobe malfunction” at halftime, because I had put the TV on mute while recording my stories for the next day in South Carolina.

The biggest problem for me on this Super Bowl Sunday was figuring out what I should cover on Monday – so many events, so much driving.

As the night wore on, some polling data started to trickle in – none of it showed a big drop for Rubio, but it was clear his momentum had stalled.

It was a reminder to take the polls with a grain of salt, since eight years ago the polls had told us that Barack Obama would win a solid victory against Hillary Clinton.

That did not happen, just as Donald Trump did not win in Iowa last week.

Just something to remember as I drive down New Hampshire 101 again today.

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