January 15, 2008
Dry Cleaners for Hillary
The alleged crying had been in the morning. I saw her that night at the Salem High School. It was about twenty minutes into her speech when the moment came. Suddenly, a man in the audience stood up and started chanting, "Iron My Shirt." He held up an orange sign with the same words. A moment later, on the other side of the auditorium, another man with the same sign joined in the chant.
It was a surreal moment, and you could see everyone in the audience squirming. The Senator tried to go on with her speech briefly, until she finally asked for the lights to come on. As the two clowns were being roughly escorted out by the police, she then said, "Oh, the remnants of sexism are alive and well!"
There were, of course, loud cheers. What's funny is that whatever those two clowns were trying to accomplish backfired. In that moment, she completely won the audience over. These were the loudest, most authentic cheers I heard at any event I attended. "As I think has just been abundantly demonstrated," she said, "I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling."
Sure, it may have been no more substantial a moment than any other on the campaign, but it somehow felt significant. I wasn't at all surprised the next night to see that she had won the Salem vote. It helped her so much that some accused the two guys of being Clinton plants, until it was revealed that the whole thing had just been a lame radio stunt for some shock jocks on WBCN in Boston.
As I drove home, I actually thought Clinton might win, but then I got home and learned from television that such a notion was ridiculous. I don't mean to boast that I called the election. I had planned to attend a 10 pm rally for Barack Obama in Concord that night. If I had made that event, I could just as easily have come away from the Granite State thinking that Obama would be the winner.
It had been a long day, one in which I saw three candidates -- Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton -- all within about a ten mile radius of each other. The first stop was to see Giuliani in Hudson, where I learned that Rudy is "a terrorist to babies," among other things. You see, since I wasn't able to get in, I was stuck outside listening to two pro-life protesters with a megaphone getting on Giuliani for his pro-choice views. "Rudy's no Republican. You might as well vote for a Democrat," they said. Soon, the campaign workers started revving the Giuliani bus to drown out the noise of the protesters. So much for the environment, I guess.
There were about fifteen of us trying to get in, but the fire marshal at the door would only let someone in whenever another came out. When I finally made it in with about five minutes left in his speech, I expected to see a large crowd, but instead it was the tiniest little meeting hall I've ever seen. Most of the space was taken up by television cameras. And so, I learned an important rule of politics. When your numbers are low, make sure to book small venues so that the room doesn't look empty. If Rudy's campaigning for the Massachusetts primary, I'll be happy to offer up my living room for an event, you know, for a small fee.
Next up was the Salem-Derry Elks Club for an "Ask Mitt Anything" forum. Here, I learned another important lesson. When looking for the Elks Club, it's best not to ask a teenager for directions. I was so lost that I almost missed this event. In retrospect, Google Maps would be a lot better if it could give directions like "Hang a left at Anderson Cooper."
Luckily, Cooper delayed Romney outside for a CNN interview, and I made it inside just a few minutes before Romney's entrance. Romney was clearly on his game, and what everyone else has said is true. In person, that hair really is presidential! For this New Hampshire crowd, Romney seemed a little more moderate, even touting his health insurance plan from Massachusetts. Like everyone else in this campaign, he also talked about change. (You would too, if you had just lost Iowa.) Behind him, there was a big banner that read, "Washington is broken," which would almost seem downright unpatriotic, if not flanked by a giant American flag. In this election, even the Republicans are running against the status quo.
After Romney's event, I drove to the high school to wait in line for 90 minutes to see Hillary Clinton. For what was supposed to be the last days of the Clinton campaign, it was a lively event. Once inside, a campaign staffer fired up the crowd by throwing free t-shirts into the audience. The people there were so excited that you would think he was throwing free health care into the crowd.
Soon, Clinton began her speech, and she too was for change, but she also complained, "I don't know when experience became some sort of liability." I'm told that in the past she mostly just gave speeches, but at this event she took questions for about an hour after her speech. "If there's anyone left in the auditorium who wants to learn how to iron his own shirt, I'll talk about that," she joked.
All in all, she was on stage for an hour and a half, and she was impressive. Like many, I'm still undecided, but she almost won me over. Then again, maybe I was just feeling generous because this was the only event where I got to sit. Sometimes, I'm really a simple man.
The press was there too, looking tired and beleaguered. The four days of frantic campaigning was clearly getting to them. Earlier, at the Romney event, I had seen one reporter sitting on the floor in the corner, hunched over her laptop as if she was about to fall asleep. At the Clinton event, they seemed just as happy as me to be sitting.
This speech was taking place during the evening news, and so I found myself sitting three seats from Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. For a few moments, Mitchell was standing up with her back to the speech, loudly giving her report to Brian Williams while Clinton spoke. It was a little disconcerting to hear live pessimism being reported so loudly amidst all the excitement.
Mitchell wasn't the only NBC personality there. As I left, I saw Matt Lauer of The Today Show. Or, to be more precise, I heard the woman next to me scream, "Omigod! It's Matt Lauer!" and then I noticed him.
Lauer was standing outside the auditorium, leaning casually against a locker. A possible future president is one thing, but Matt Lauer is quite another. As several women asked him for a picture, one man exclaimed to his wife, "Where in the world is Matt Lauer? Well, he's right here in the Salem High School."
Frankly, it's a good thing Matt Lauer isn't running for President, because I don't think Obama or Clinton would stand a chance against him.
©2008 Joe Lavin