KERNS: Live free and vote in the primaries



Bryan Kerns

Doesn’t it seem fitting that this nation’s process for electing a new president begins in a state whose motto is “Live free or die”?

The Iowa caucus is an interesting spectacle, but the inherent disenfranchisement of that process calls its credibility as a democratic paradigm into question.

New Hampshire, though, is where legends begin.

President Lyndon Johnson was forced from the 1968 race by a loss there, Jimmy Carter’s win in 1976 proved his viability, Bill Clinton’s 1992 second-place finish propelled him to the nomination and John McCain’s 2000 victory put the current President Bush on his heels.

And that’s where McCain’s New Hampshire story picked up this year.

Operating out of a renovated mill building along the Merrimack River in Manchester, McCain’s 2008 campaign drew 300 volunteers from across the country in the run-up to the primary, including yours truly.

That’s right – I was in New Hampshire from the Sunday before the primary to the morning after it with an old friend from middle school, volunteering for McCain’s campaign.

We waved signs, made calls, went door-to-door, stood at a polling place and even appeared on “Good Morning America.”

Our efforts and those of many others led to the senator’s victory – a story unlike any other in the race. After his campaign was declared dead over the summer, McCain returned to his old stomping grounds and began telling his story over and over to the New Hampshire voters, which propelled him forward in the polls before the vote and to the eventual win.

New Hampshire appears to be a sleepy state except for those months of the year when the presidential campaigns come to town. Media from around the world, volunteers of all varieties and the candidates themselves descend upon the state and vie for the attention of the people of the state of New Hampshire.

Despite the number of people who hung up on me when I placed calls, I remain convinced that the voters there take their role seriously. On one door-to-door excursion, a woman admitted that she was still undecided and said she would spend the night reviewing the hours of recorded material she had saved up and then would make her decision.

Would this have occurred in any other state? I think not.

Voters like this woman gave McCain a win. He overcame a stance on immigration that was troubling to many and converted his first-rate retail politicking into a momentum-creating win.

Turning to the Democratic side of things, Hillary’s unexpected victory confounded many, including those of us in New Hampshire for the primary.

The polling place I observed was located in a working-class Manchester neighborhood and seemed to tend heavily toward Hillary throughout the day. What that would bring, none of us realized or could have anticipated.

Once again, the Clintons had used New Hampshire to re-energize their movement. Obama, on the other hand, brought college students – perhaps some of you – out in droves and, at the end of the night, had little to show for it. That’s not to say his campaign will fail, but if it does, it will be because the New Hampshire voters handed him a stunning, unexpected defeat.

However, six months ago, no one would have sanely predicted that Obama would even stand a chance against the Clinton juggernaut or that Rudy Giuliani would have been an “also-ran” to everyone or that the politically dead McCain would emerge as the winner.

So much changed in so little time.

So much changed in an even smaller amount of time on election night, and it was all because a few hundred thousand voters in New Hampshire, hardly representative of the voting public in the United States, decided to live free and cast their ballots.

A national primary day is often talked about as an alternative to the front-loaded schedule currently being executed.

While this is an efficient idea, it would limit the discourse that emanates from the disjointed primary calendar we see this year.

New Hampshire changed its mind more than a few times this year, and the campaigns probably should have upped their inventory of defibrillators in the process.

The panic-inducing whims of the New Hampshire electorate force the candidates to sharpen their ideas in a manner that serves the national electorate well for the general election.

I can think of no better place to start off a presidential election than a state whose motto is “Live free or die.”


Bryan Kerns is a freshman from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].