The Road to the White House and/or Nashua

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A few moments from the New Hampshire campaign trail...

John Edwards: Blocking out the Gore Lady

I'm on the steps of a building at Dartmouth College to hear a speech from John Edwards. It's a good speech, but I can't help focusing instead on the "Draft Gore" lady. All while Edwards is speaking, she stands on the steps behind him holding a large "Draft Gore" sign. She obviously knows what she's doing, always displaying the sign just behind Edwards so that it will be in all the television shots.

Such treachery, of course, cannot stand, so a member of Edwards' staff soon walks in front of her and calmly blocks her sign with an Edwards sign. A few minutes later, she moves to the other side. He waits a minute and then, as politely as possible, moves in front of her again. Every few minutes, she moves, and he follows, slowly -- so as not to draw too much attention. Once, she even manages to fake him out, but he is never fooled for long, and soon the sign is obscured again.

This is what's known as political activism. During the whole hour, it's like watching Russell block out Chamberlain for a rebound in slow motion, except that she's a sweet-looking retired lady and he's a preppy-looking college student, who's just one ascot short of being a Republican.

Mike Gravel: Can I pay off my Visa with my Master Card?

Al Franken once wrote a book in which he imagined running for President on one issue -- eliminating ATM fees. Franken may now be running for the Senate, but it's former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel who seems to be most influenced by this. Witness his response in last week's debate when moderator Tim Russert asked why he should be elected President after he had filed for bankruptcy:

"Who did I bankrupt? I stuck the credit card companies with $90,000 worth of bills. And they deserved it, because I used the money. . . . They deserved it, and I used the money to finance the empowerment of the American people with the National Initiative."

Naturally, this being the single most interesting moment of the debate, Tim Russert moved on and asked Dennis Kucinich why he let Cleveland go bankrupt in the seventies. However, back in May, Gravel did talk with Salon about his 2003 bankruptcy. His National Initiative is a movement to create direct democracy by allowing citizens to vote on national referenda. It turns out that the small non-profit agency he established was kept alive for a few years only through his personal credit card loans.

As Gravel started having health problems and worried about his wife being responsible for his credit card debt, he decided to file for personal bankruptcy. "I thought, my god, isn't this interesting? I'm going to get these six credit card companies who have been predators on normal people. I'm going to get them to contribute to the National Initiative. And I filed for bankruptcy in a heartbeat."

I'm just waiting for the campaign slogans. "Mike Gravel: Screwing over the credit card companies in '08!" You may not agree with him, but it's certainly a different perspective, and I have a feeling he can appeal to many voters -- broke voters, but voters nonetheless. Along with credit card companies, he should also go after cell phone cancellation fees, cable TV rates, parking tickets, and the aforementioned ATM fees. With a strategy like that, Mike Gravel could become the frontrunner overnight.

Barack Obama: A fresh new voice for change doing his own laundry?

I saw Senator Obama at a "meet and greet" in Nashua before a minor league baseball game and even shook hands with him. Mostly, though, I just hung around and listened to his conversations with voters. You hear a lot about Bush being a regular guy, but Obama also has this trait.

He is such a regular guy that he even talks about having to do his own laundry while on the road. Somehow, I'm a little skeptical. When I shook hands with him, I was tempted to press him on the issue. "Senator, do you really do your laundry? What's your position on washing in hot water? Is it true that you've flip-flopped on fabric softener over the years?"

Sure, Obama seems down to earth, but I don't know if he's that down to earth. Kucinich and Gravel? Of course, they do their own laundry. Kucinich might even do other people's laundry, but I have my doubts about Obama.

Hillary Clinton: Probably not doing her own laundry

I will say this for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Her campaign workers are the most polished and best dressed of anyone I saw. They all look immaculate, and it doesn't hurt either that she's flanked by several cool-looking secret service agents.

I wish I could tell you more about her visit to the tiny town of Warner, but it was just a quick stop at a Main Street bookstore. There was a short speech that I couldn't hear, followed by some hand shaking that I couldn't really see, and then she was gone. Still, of all the candidates, Clinton seems to have generated the most excitement. Others were politicians. She was a celebrity, and those who could not hear her speak seemed no less excited than those who could. Just seeing her was the important thing.

Rudy Giuliani: Saturday Morning Tax Policy Forum v. Saturday Morning Cartoons

I don't mean to focus only on the Democrats. During my New Hampshire trip, I did try to see Republicans. Unfortunately, almost all were out of state that week, and my only chance was to get up early on a Saturday morning, drive an hour to Manchester, and attend a 10 a.m. tax policy forum with Rudy Giuliani and special guest star Steve Forbes. Or, as the case may be, I could just sleep in. Did I mention that Steve Forbes was there?

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