The New Hampshire primary is still being analyzed and deconstructed by the reporters and columnists who covered it. We are hearing what the working folks thought, what the Independents voted on and which campaign structures made smart or dumb moves.
I, on the other hand, have the luxury of writing this without ever having been in the thick of this year's primary, though I've spent more than a fair share of time in New Hampshire in past election years. But this time my musings are from a distance, and sometimes you can see things a bit more starkly from far away. That's why I think I understand why John McCain walloped George W. Bush.
Within the past year I have had the opportunity to do stories on both of these candidates. In fact, neither of them was a candidate at the time. Both were expected to plunge in later, but Governor Bush wouldn't talk about it. He wouldn't even entertain questions about why he might want to be the leader of the nation. He kept saying he'd answer that question when and if he decided to run - as if that would be the first day that he had to justify his quest for the presidency.
Despite a month's worth of calls and letters, he refused to do an interview. I was invited to a group press conference on the day after he was sworn in for his second term as governor. After the group grope, he worked the room of reporters as if we were a group of high-rolling contributors, stopping for little tete-a-tetes designed to show how accessible he was.
But, in fact, he refused to answer many questions, especially those about his wild and wooly past. And though we were all in the same room with him, he really managed the situation so there was little chance for engagement on anything he didn't wish to engage on.
John McCain, on the other hand, readily granted an interview. It was during the Kosovo war, and he was trying to push his point of view that the United States was making a mistake by announcing that ground troops would never be introduced into the conflict. It was a controversial stance, but one he felt compelled to make.
The interview I did, however, ranged onto many other subjects, including his admissions of marital infidelity during his first marriage and a reputation for having a red-hot temper. He also talked openly about his possible run for the presidency, saying that campaign finance reform would be one of his top priorities and that pushing for an anti-abortion amendment would not be, because he didn't think the country would support i.
He also, rather contritely, apologized for telling a very mean joke about a member of the Clinton administration. In short, he seemed to be saying, This is who and what I am, and it's your choice to make.
Obviously candidates have a different relationship with voters than they do with reporters. But to me, it's no surprise that those famously self-assured New Hampshire folks went for the senator rather than the governor. As veteran Democratic analyst Michael Berman summed it up, "Bush was employing a Rose Garden strategy without having a rose garden."