These are exciting and uncertain times for the country — a presidential election without an incumbent on the ballot and without a sitting vice-president running to replace him. It’s a jump ball, anyone’s to win or lose, and the next three months will test the candidates’ endurance and mettle in a system designed to expose the weak and winnow out the uncommitted.
I am a committed Independent and a former bartender who never discloses personal political, religious or spiritual preferences, so this post is not about who I favor or disfavor. I cast my votes across party lines and have voted in the past eight presidential elections, beginning with my first, in 1976, when Ford lost to Carter.
New Hampshire holds a special place in my heart from the 1984 primary, when I was a young reporter at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, a medium-circulation daily newspaper (60,000 circ. at the time) that covered a territory along the Merrimack River Valley including the New Hampshire border towns in Rockingham County. Those towns — Salem, Derry, Pelham, Plaistow, etc. — were very important to the candidates as they carried a relatively dense population, were serviced by the Boston television markets, and therefore easy to reach during the campaign as opposed to the seriously rural votes in northern New Hampshire in towns like Berlin, Conway, and Franconia.
For a few months I got to cover national politics in the shadow of the biggest names in political journalism, rubbing elbows with the likes of Curtis Wilkie, Jules Witcover, and David Broder as the candidates rushed from coffee shop to nursing homes, VFWs and hazardous waste sites, giving the same stump speeches so repetitive that the camera men and sound techs from the networks would lip synch along in perfect harmony.
The experience of being invited to ride in the back seat of a limo with a candidate as the caravan rushed from Portsmouth to Rochester, talking one-on-one with George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, was electrifying for a shy 26 year-old who was working in journalism for overly noble reasons such as Watergate and the amazing Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. They paid attention to me because I reached the voters they wanted, but it was nice to pretend, for a few weeks, that I was semi-important.
And then it was over. The campaigns moved on to other states and I was back to covering local town hall politics and the occasional state house debate. One year later and I was at PC Week trying to figure out local area networking protocols like StarLAN and Token Ring, but for a few short months I was indeed, a “boy on the bus.”