A Look Back: Citizen access to the candidates central to NH primary

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye Huntsman talk with Skip Santolucito of Acworth, N.H., right, during a stop at Daddypops Tumble Inn Diner in Claremont, N.H., on January 9, 2012. Huntsman toured the state looking to pick up votes before the primary. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye Huntsman talk with Skip Santolucito of Acworth, N.H., right, during a stop at Daddypops Tumble Inn Diner in Claremont, N.H., on January 9, 2012. Huntsman toured the state looking to pick up votes before the primary. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file - James M. Patterson

Vice President George H.W. Bush signs a copy of the Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

" title="Vice President George H.W. Bush signs a copy of the "Valley News" for Jennifer Wadsworth, right, during a visit to Lebanon, N.H., on April 16, 1987. At left is Anna Hough. Wadsworth's mother, Karen Wadsworth, hosted a gathering of about 80 in support of Bush's 1988 presidential run. (Valley News - Dan Hunting)

Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

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Vice President George H.W. Bush signs a copy of the "Valley News" for Jennifer Wadsworth, right, during a visit to Lebanon, N.H., on April 16, 1987. At left is Anna Hough. Wadsworth's mother, Karen Wadsworth, hosted a gathering of about 80 in support of Bush's 1988 presidential run. (Valley News - Dan Hunting)

Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News file –Dan Hunting

Rudy Giuliani laughs while talking with Winifred Stearns of Hanover, N.H., left, during a campaign stop in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, May 23, 2007. Stearns got a bear hug from the Republican presidential candidate while giving him a copy of a New York Times column that said his popularity among GOP voters signaled the

Rudy Giuliani laughs while talking with Winifred Stearns of Hanover, N.H., left, during a campaign stop in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, May 23, 2007. Stearns got a bear hug from the Republican presidential candidate while giving him a copy of a New York Times column that said his popularity among GOP voters signaled the "death knell" of right-wing political orthodoxy. "That is putting your finger right on it," said Stearns, a lifelong Republican who supports abortion rights. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Gov. George Romney, R-Mich., puts on a pair of bowling shoes before playing a game for the media on Jan. 15, 1968, during a six-day, 2,000-mile campaign swing through New Hampshire before primary voting. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Gov. George Romney, R-Mich., puts on a pair of bowling shoes before playing a game for the media on Jan. 15, 1968, during a six-day, 2,000-mile campaign swing through New Hampshire before primary voting. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From right, Flora Kangas, Janice Newton and Patti Goulette, all of Newport, N.H., catch a glimpse of presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney as he stops at Village Pizza in Newport Wednesday, December 21, 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From right, Flora Kangas, Janice Newton and Patti Goulette, all of Newport, N.H., catch a glimpse of presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney as he stops at Village Pizza in Newport Wednesday, December 21, 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file - James M. Patterson

Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter campaigns in the Upper Valley in 1976. (Valley News photograph)<p><i>Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.</i></p>
Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter campaigns in Lebanon in 1976.Valley News — Larry McDonald

Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter campaigns in the Upper Valley in 1976. (Valley News photograph)

Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter campaigns in Lebanon in 1976.Valley News — Larry McDonald Valley News file

Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry eats chili with Claremont, N.H., residents Gilberte Desilets, left, and Jean Bergeron at the Earl Bourdon senior center in Claremont on December 10, 2003. Kerry spoke and served chili to residents. (Valley News - Edmund Fountain) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry eats chili with Claremont, N.H., residents Gilberte Desilets, left, and Jean Bergeron at the Earl Bourdon senior center in Claremont on December 10, 2003. Kerry spoke and served chili to residents. (Valley News - Edmund Fountain) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Edmund Fountain

Republican presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller campaigns in the Upper Valley in 1964. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Republican presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller campaigns in the Upper Valley in 1964. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Larry McDonald

In a non-partisan speech hosted by the Claremont Jaycees in Claremont, N.H., on Feb. 20, 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon -- who leads the state's popularity polls -- said nothing that would antagonize anyone and the crowd loved it. After the speech, Pat and Richard Nixon greeted well-wishers, then headed to Wisconsin. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

In a non-partisan speech hosted by the Claremont Jaycees in Claremont, N.H., on Feb. 20, 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon -- who leads the state's popularity polls -- said nothing that would antagonize anyone and the crowd loved it. After the speech, Pat and Richard Nixon greeted well-wishers, then headed to Wisconsin. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan campaigns in the Upper Valley in February 1976. (Valley News photograph) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan campaigns in the Upper Valley in February 1976. (Valley News photograph) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file

By STEVE TAYLOR

For the Valley News

Published: 01-08-2024 4:17 AM

Modified: 01-10-2024 8:14 AM


It was 36 years ago, back when Lebanon was largely a moderate Republican bastion, and Karen Wadsworth was an up and coming figure in New Hampshire GOP politics. One day she hosted a good-sized gathering of the GOP faithful at her home on Bank Street.

She climbed up onto a chair and hushed the crowd.

She said how thrilled she was to recognize the guests of honor, Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, campaigning for president, and his wife, Betty.

Ouch.

Gov. John H. Sununu, a master of the snarky quip, called out: “Karen, on Tuesdays he brings his wife Barbara.” Today, Wadsworth, who went on to a long and distinguished tenure as clerk of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, relates the story of her embarrassing gaffe with a cheerful laugh, and the tale joins a long and deep list of amusing anecdotes that has grown out of New Hampshire’s celebrated Presidential Preferential Primary.

The primary has long been lauded as affording the average voter a chance to see and talk face-to-face with all the candidates. With effort and patience it’s still possible to meet many of them, but probably they’ll be the lesser lights unlikely to finish high on voting day. Campaigning by the front-runners is more apt to be made-for-television stuff, with aides scurrying to get the best camera angles or to comb the waiting lines for diverse faces to stand on a platform behind the speaker’s lectern.

Sid Leavitt, a now-retired lifelong news reporter who covered Claremont for the Valley News in the 1970s, recalls when an advance man came into the paper’s bureau and inquired if anybody would like to meet Jimmy Carter, the former Georgia governor then out on Pleasant Street shaking hands with anybody who came walking along. Carter soon appeared and Leavitt struggled to understand this guy’s thick Georgia peanut-country accent. It didn’t seem like much of a story at the moment, but when Leavitt watched an assembly of noisy Stevens High School kids go crazy over Carter’s message he knew something was up.

Dayton Duncan, a former Keene Sentinel news editor and later an author and producer/documentarian with the Ken Burns organization, recalls Jimmy and wife Rosalynn being in the Monadnock Region almost constantly, it seemed, and one day Rosalynn herself called the Sentinel newsroom to ask if they’d consider doing a sit-down interview with her. Nobody there was interested, having given the Carters so much attention already.

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In 1979, Rosalyn and Vice President Walter Mondale campaigned in New Hampshire, while Jimmy stayed back at the White House because of the Iran hostage crisis. They toured Manchester shoe factories with then-Gov. Hugh Gallen, and many workers had brought cameras to snap a picture of the first lady, vice president and governor, but Gallen took the cameras and shot a picture of each worker with the campaigning visitors. Could such a thing happen today? Not likely, in Duncan’s view.

Contrast that with Pierre S. du Pont’s dismal time campaigning in Keene in the 1988 Republican primary. A fabulously wealthy heir to a chemical industry fortune, he proved about as clueless and inept as anybody ever on the New Hampshire campaign trail. He pitched drug searching and testing of teenagers to a hostile study hall audience at Keene High, got chased out of the Social Security office for interfering with the workflow and had a visit to a fire station interrupted by an alarm. He netted 7% of the vote on primary day.

Anybody reminiscing about how things used to be at presidential primary time is almost certain to talk about the level of access — for better or worse — the average voter had to the candidates a generation or more ago.

Alan Cranston, a U.S. senator from California, was campaigning hard for the Democratic nomination in 1984, but wasn’t gaining any traction. Focus groups were convened and almost every participant mentioned how he looked scrawny and unhealthy. So he set about to put on some weight and there he was at a gathering on Occom Ridge in Hanover guzzling milkshakes one after another, but to no avail. He didn’t achieve a transformation in appearance and exited the race soon after.

Pete McCloskey, an Illinois congressman, sought the Republican nomination in 1968, and on one notable Upper Valley occasion patiently listened to a question that ran on for a good seven minutes until someone in the back of the room shouted out “Question.” McCloskey’s answer was one word long: “No.”

Not all the quirky stories involve the candidates directly, however. There was the time a major metropolitan newspaper had at least a half dozen reporters sent up to New Hampshire to track the various campaigns.

A big-foot editor joined the pack a few days before the voting and at a staff meeting inquired as to why there were so many signs posted along the roadways for “Frost Heaves” but there hadn’t been any reporting on the Heaves campaign.

Dartmouth political scientist Linda Fowler has studied the New Hampshire presidential primary scene for decades and she’s not so quick to buy into the notion that the face-to-face aspect has vanished. But she finds that the most important development over the past generation has been the rise in the importance of independent voters. They’re not a huge factor in the primary races, even though New Hampshire allows independents to jump into them. In general elections, the independents are the key moderating force, she contends.

Roger Carroll, a Lebanon native and longtime newsperson hereabouts, says citizen access, compared to what’s possible in larger states, remains almost unbelievable in New Hampshire.

Steve Taylor has been involved in election coverage and analysis for newspapers, wire services and broadcast networks since 1964. He lives in Meriden.