The snow continues to fall on the trail.

Politics on the road.
Dec. 20 2007 1:05 PM

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

The snow won't lift in New Hampshire.

Slate's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, is reporting from New Hampshire this week, three weeks before the primaries on Jan. 8. In addition to his stories, he'll be filing Twitter updates and dispatches about life on the road. You can also follow his travels on the map below. Also, check out John’s past travels in Iowa and all the candidates' whereabouts on " Map the Candidates."

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Dec. 20, 2007

Manchester, N.H., Noon: There is an old joke about the guy who in the middle of running a marathon got too tired and ran back. Today, I am that man. About 15 miles down Highway 101, headed toward Exeter to catch Obama, I broke off my tour into the driving snow and returned to Manchester.

After I'd settled my rental car on the two thin gray lines on the highway, I called a source at one of the campaigns. I needed to do the reporting and I could either focus on how hard the snow was falling, how much there was on the road, or the discarded spun out carcasses of vehicles that were parked on the shoulder. Or, I could focus on the most wide-open presidential race in the history of mankind.

"You know," he said, "the thing is, God forbid if anything happens, you'll wonder why you thought driving was so important." This was persuasive. I have seen a lot of Obama speeches. I saw him last night. More persuasive, though, was the Wal-Mart truck and his cousins driving as if it were a bright, dry day and the cheap Christmas presents were two days late. The highway has two lanes, but in the snow the lanes are only theoretical. (permalink)

Manchester, N.H., 9:32 a.m.: It's been snowing since last night's parking lot incident. The schools are closed. I check in with the Obama folks. The events are still on in Exeter, though this message from one of Obama's staffers is not encouraging: "Drive carefully. I spent an hour in a ditch this morning." (permalink)

Dec. 19, 2007

Manchester, N.H., 7:30 p.m.: If I'm not going to make it to the Obama event, I'll catch John Edwards down the street. His event started at 6:45, and—given how late he always is—I'm sure it hasn't even started.

Drat. It has. The Palace Theater is packed and Edwards, still in his graduate school uniform, is pacing onstage in front of the set of A Christmas Carol. He's just wrapping up, which means Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne have long ago finished. I take notes anyway.

Edwards gets more detailed questions from his audiences than other candidates. He's asked about the military tribunals act, the nonproliferation treaty, and the relationship between global warming and poverty. For each, he has a very specific answer. At the Obama event I just attended, for example, people asked vague questions about unity and education. Then, a woman in the upper balcony stands up not to ask a question but to sing. She has written a song for Edwards and despite the professionals onstage, she is unbowed.

John Edwards he should be our president
He's the one with all the qualifications
And he'll lead without a reservation
Edwards is No. 1, follow him and see
He's the man with the plan and he can do what's right for us
Edwards is for me.

The tune resembles the kind that was sung in campaigns up until the '60s. My mother used to sing them, which sent me racing from the room. I am gripped by the same urge. When the woman finishes the first verse, the room erupts into applause. Everyone is on her side. "If I were you, I'd stop on that," Edwards says. What he means, I think, is that she's done such a wonderful job she should go out on a triumphant note. And yet, he may also mean: "If I were you I'd stop on that." (permalink)

Manchester, N.H., 7:15 p.m.: Apparently the people who attended the Obama event and have parked in the underground garage have never seen snow before, or they are transfixed by the Obama message and unable to operate their vehicles. These are the only two reasons I can find to explain why the cars trying to exit the garage into the light flurries are unable to do so at a faster rate than one per lunar cycle. I am going to miss the next event. Wait, no I'm not; it's just some blockage that will clear. Someone will get a new general and there will be a surge. I am in it to win it. Fifteen minutes pass. The cars do not move. At this rate, I'll never make it. I am Tancredoing this operation. (permalink)

Manchester, N.H. 6 p.m.: Obama arrives to a room full of 700 New Hampshire voters—the same room where last December I watched him flirt with the idea of running for president. Everyone in the room has had to go through a narrow passage between two tables so that volunteers can cajole them to put down their names and phone numbers or e-mail addresses. Events like this are about the candidate making his pitch, but they're also an effort to capture data. The campaign needs personal data to constantly assault voters with phone calls, yard signs, text messages, and e-mail updates for the next three weeks to make sure they turn out to vote.

Obama gives a fine enough speech and he has everyone on their feet at the end, but I've seen him better. Anyone can have an off event, so I'm headed down to Nashua to catch his next act. Most of my colleagues in the press are not going to go to the next Obama event because it's snowing too hard. I'm going to risk it. The event is only 25 miles south of Manchester, so I figure it's not that hard a mission. (permalink)

Dec. 18, 2007

Nashua, N.H., Raddison, 10:30 p.m.: The hotel is under renovation. This means there is no food and no libation. After a long day, I find that I am struck by a terrible thirst. The solution can be found at Uno's down the street, where it takes three hands to hold the fold-out menu and where there's a completely separate menu for the flaming, fruity, and frapped drinks. After a day of not eating, however, I am convinced that I have discovered the best pizza in the history of pizza. (permalink)

Nashua, N.H., 8 p.m.: Like in Keene, the theater at Daniel Webster College is packed and there is an overflow room. And like at Keene, we wait for the candidate for an hour. The crowd starts the fast-clap, which is never good for a candidate. Finally, Raitt and Browne play, and Edwards gives a stump speech nearly identical to the one he gave up north, though his wife and daughter are gone, so they don't interject.

A woman stands up to ask him a question about socialized medicine, and he does something I've seen him do at a few other events. He anticipates where she's going before she's done and cuts her off a little bit. He ultimately apologizes after mischaracterizing her view. Bush did this, and I do it, too, when I'm not being very generous to the person I'm debating with. It's not antagonistic, exactly, it's just not generous. He is a man in a hurry, and it shows. (permalink)

Nashua, N.H., 7:45 p.m.: "Mommy, where are we going?" asks a toddler in front of me as we make our long, slippery way into Daniel Webster College to hear John Edwards. His mother tells him that they're going to hear Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Oh, and John Edwards. "Is he president?" No, she tells him, he's running for president. It's about 17 degrees, it's a long walk from the parking lot, and I'm very much in agreement with the young lad when he complains, "Mommy, I'm freezing." She has no sympathy: "It's good for you." That is the New Hampshire way. (permalink)

Nashua, N.H., 7:22 p.m.: I have forgotten to eat today. I now have a series of bad choices to make among America's fast-food chains. I turn into the McDonald's because its there. The Neverlost Lady does not like this because she has been tasked with getting me to the John Edwards event. "Please proceed to the highlighted route," she admonishes, because I am off course. For the 2012 campaign, she'll have directions from the doctor: "Chicken nuggets have too much salt, which leads to high blood pressure." She chides me again: "Please proceed to the highlighted route." On the little screen, my car, designated by a triangular ship identical to the one on the old game Asteroids, is off the grid floating in blackness. The drive-in line is too long. I bail. I am back on course to catch Edwards. She has nothing further to say. (permalink)

Highway 101 to Nashua, N.H., 6:55 p.m.: I am driving very slowly because I don't want to get pulled over again  and because the dark mountain roads turn as if they were drawn by Harold with his purple crayon. It may be the roads or because it's election season, but I'm getting flip-flopper radio reception. No matter the station, I hear two alternating songs. This deletes any good feeling I may have had after listening to Raitt and Browne. On a radio station somewhere, George Thorogood, Robert Plant, and Stevie Nicks are always singing and this makes for interesting lyrical mashups with an uncertain radio: one burbon, one scotch and one white winged dove. (permalink)

Keene, N.H., 5 p.m.: Elizabeth Edwards has just arrived onstage with her daughter Cate, who is a student at Harvard law school. She tells us Cate isn't going to be speaking but then says to the crowd, "Isn't she lovely?" This is not spin. The audience claps because Cate is lovely. This description (though understandable from a mother) would seem a little antiquated and limiting, but then Elizabeth explains that Cate volunteers for a legal-aid bureau and on Thursday will try to keep a family from being evicted the week before Christmas. Lovely and committed, just like her father.

The event has felt a little like a carnival up to this point. Peter Coyote, the actor and author, has spoken and music has been played. Granny D, the 97-year-old political activist, has talked, delivering a righteous clubbing to Hillary Clinton, whom she says is bought and paid for by corporate interests. Elizabeth Edwards centers things, playing her traditional sidekick role. She starts by describing the man she met at law school 33 years ago. "This young man was incredibly sweet about his family. The way he talked about his family would have warmed anyone's heart. He talked about the things he wanted to do and where he'd come from. He didn't have much but he talked about it not in terms of how little he had but all the great gifts he'd been given. The determination and the work ethic and how he was able to bring that to the table in law school. … All those young men I'd met before—they all faded, that one man and that sense of optimism about what a single person can accomplish, made all the difference in the world. It's an incredible characteristic in a husband. It's an essential characteristic in a president. ... He's the same young man I met 35 years ago, and to my great dismay he still pretty much looks the same. My husband, John Edwards."

Edwards arrives onstage dressed like he may have 35 years ago, in jeans and a zippered sweatshirt. Candidates make closing arguments; this is his closing uniform. He was wearing the same thing when I was with him in Iowa last week. During the question period after Edwards' stemwinder speech, his wife returns to make regular interjections. After Edwards answers a question about health care, she adds more about insurance companies' antitrust exemptions. She does the same with a question about the Supreme Court, which Cate has also taken a crack at answering. Edwards reaches the microphone, but Elizabeth waves him away. "Somebody said how they are praying for my good health. Please pray for the good health of Justice Stevens. He is 87 years old and stands between us and even worse decisions by the Supreme Court."

"There is a reason I bring her along," Edwards says taking back the microphone and repeating a question a reporter asked him after watching his wife. "Does she check with you when she speaks?" The answer is no, which becomes clear yet again when Edwards starts to answer a question about how he'll select his Cabinet. "I don't want to be surrounded by a bunch of yes people," he insists, getting up a head of steam. "I want people who will say to me you are wrong." The audience starts to laugh loudly because Elizabeth has raised her hand. "Did you raise your hand?" Edwards turns around to ask her. "I thought they did it on their own." They would have. (permalink)

Keene, N.H., 4:45 p.m.: After getting pulled over, I thought about turning around. I was going to be more than an hour late to the event. Fortunately, I was less late than the candidate who is always late. The second floor of the student center was packed to the rafters at Keene State University, which meant the laconic people of New Hampshire are not as stingy with their time as they are their words. They either really wanted to hear John Edwards, or they wanted to hear Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.

I had to work, so I sat down on my jacket to read the edits of my McCain piece. When Raitt and Browne finally took the small stage, standing before a few bleachers of voters, I didn't even get up. Then they started playing "World in Motion" by Jackson Browne (a pretty good song despite a slightly clunky rhyme of hatred and eradicated). The room was transfixed by the performers. I stopped to listen and then had to stand up when they played John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery," a gorgeous song about a lonesome woman.  For me, it was like unexpectedly smelling great food cooking somewhere. It triggered an entirely different set of reactions than I have to a normal political speech. If that was true for other people, was it preparing them for Edwards or was it going to make him seem like a cold bucket of water? (permalink)

Keene, N.H., 4:45 p.m.: I'm late and on a two-lane highway in the mountains of New Hampshire. Finally, the pickup in front of me turns down a snow-covered lane. Yahoo! I am off like a rocket. This little spasm of acceleration introduces me to the finest of New Hampshire's state police force. I was encouraged to pull over to the side of the road. License and registration, please, the officer asked me. He was a tremendously kind fellow. Rental cars don't have registration. All I could present him with was the plastic laminated card with instructions for the Neverlost system. He returned to his car to check out my license. (He left me with the laminated instructions.) He returned, and there was some further discussion. Did I mention he was kind? In the end, we came to an accommodation that allowed me to continue on my way without sanction. I drove and reflected on what a kind fellow he was, and I repaid his kindness by driving at 45 mph. (permalink)

Dec. 17, 2007

Weare, N.H., 7:15 p.m.: I'll be filing a piece about a politically stirring moment at the McCain event Monday night in Weare, N.H., but I wanted to post about another moment from the town-hall meeting, too:

McCain got into a little trouble when he didn't properly defend Hillary Clinton during a roadside stop when a woman referred to Hillary as a bitch. McCain had previously stuck up for Clinton in a GOP debate when his opponents were all denouncing her, but he didn't in that instance.

He got another tricky question in Weare about Rudy Giuliani from a man who seemed to think he was helping McCain by posing it:

I've got a two-part question that I'm kind of embarrassed to ask. Until a couple of weeks ago, I never thought it would be an issue in a presidential campaign—and you're probably not the best person to answer it—but you're the guy who is here tonight. Um, if you're elected president, can we expect to see you offering Secret Service protection to your mistresses [laughter], and how do you feel for the potential for how good an idea would it be for America to elect someone who can't answer that question in under 10 seconds?

McCain paced the stage and stammered a bit: "Can I just say that I believe the American people should decide who they want to be the president of the United States based on our vision, our positions on the issues, and our record. I just simply don't think it's appropriate for me to address that issue because I have no knowledge of it, and I also happen to respect mayor Giuliani I guess is what … [laughter] I respect Mayor Giuliani, and I respect everyone in this race. I have made many mistakes in my life, and so I also believe that there is a Biblical saying that 'judge not lest ye be judged.' I want this campaign to be based on our vision, our ability to articulate those visions, our experience, our background, and our judgment, and I thank you." (permalink)

McCain bus, headed to Weare, N.H., 6:40 p.m.: In the half an hour of bus riding I have experienced with McCain, he has talked about Pakistan (he essentially supports the Bush policy of supporting Musharraf), Putin (we could have seen it coming, but there's no new Cold War), how he would manage his White House (he'd deputize someone to give him bad news), and the state of the race he's in (slow and steady wins New Hampshire). It's not that his answers are particularly stunning, but I've become used to years of a closed-off White House and candidates in both parties who are managed down to their underpants. It's still refreshing to watch someone thinking out loud and, at the same time, someone who respects the conversation that he needs to have with the press and the public to be an effective president. (permalink)

Concord, N.H., on idling McCain bus. 6:30 p.m.: McCain started his pitch telling Mo Udall jokes, as he always does. When my mother died 10 years ago, I got all of her books from her days as a reporter. Many of them are very obscure. I have a small collection of books about Goldwater's rise and his '64 campaign and books about the economics of the mid-'60s. I can never throw them away because, well, she was my mom, and also I'm like her and I never throw anything away. I'm glad now because I'm carrying in my sack one of those books a more sensible person would have thrown away. It's by Mo Udall, and it's called Too Funny To Be President, which is also the title of my recent Mike Huckabee piece. (permalink)

Home of Marcia Moran, Concord, N.H., 5:30 p.m.: My socks are wet. Before we enter the McCain house party, we're all asked to take off our snow-covered shoes to protect the Oriental carpets. The front hall of the rambling Victorian is filled with little white bags of wet shoes. (McCain takes off his shoes, too. He wears gold-toed socks, for those keeping track.)

I've seen what the Iowa house of a Mitt Romney supporter looks like before the holidays, and on kitsch, the McCain forces have won. The halls are decked and not just with boughs of holly. In the dining room, there are row after row of dishes and cake plates stacked with cookies, brownies, and other snack items. On low tables sit dishes of nuts and M&Ms. On the piano stand, a dozen caroling figurines. On the mantle is a crèche. Snow globes linger. There's a plate with cookies for Santa somewhere in here. I just know it.

I am reminded of the difference between covering politics in Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa there are open spaces, and in New Hampshire it's close and hot. It's freezing outside, but you don't spend much time outside. You spend your time here in cramped quarters in bulky sweaters where the newfangled fabrics of high-tech coats and parkas are constantly whistling.

McCain speaks in rapid fire, the way he always does about immigration, the war, and global warming. The house is packed with about 200 people, and they love him. I'm tempted to say it felt this way eight years ago before he took the state, but it's too early for that. His closing argument to voters: "Look, why am I running: We face a transcendent challenge from radical Islam. The world changed after 9/11." (permalink)

Concord, N.H., 4:50 p.m.: I am on the McCain Straight Talk Express. I haven't been on since the spring, when he was still Front-Runner McCain. Back then, he had a very fancy bus. This one is more fitting his style and his penny-pinching campaign. It's like the tour bus for some Motown one-hit wonder and looks just like the one from 2000 on which I spent many months. The scene is identical to eight years ago: McCain in the middle of a semicircular banquette squished between reporters who worry that they're going to run out of questions. Former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is traveling with McCain and is also back in the little room, jostling with us. McCain is talking to his wife before the bus gets rolling. "John Dickerson is back with us," he tells her. "He's lost a lot of his hair." (permalink)

Concord, N.H., 4:28 p.m.: I am not where I need to be. It's the Neverlost Lady's fault. She is better on the wide open roads of Iowa, where you can drive 400 miles and never take two turns. The flinty New Hampshire roads confuse her. I am at the end of a one-way street looking at the McCain bus, where I am trying to get myself, but unable to cross this highway. I could just ditch the car in the snow bank here and walk. (permalink)

Londonderry, N.H., 3:41 p.m.: Romney arrives in the cafeteria at Insight Technology. He's spending a quick day in New Hampshire before heading back out to Iowa, where he has launched a tough new ad knocking Mike Huckabee for his crime record as governor of Arkansas. He's at a plant that makes night-vision goggles, which are known in the business as "targeting solutions," one of those great military euphemisms. In the audience, local politicians wore Santa hats. The room is filled with about 200 or so people, many of whom work at the company.

During a riff that he often tells about greeting the casket of a soldier killed in Iraq as it returned to the United States, he appeared to get emotional, as he imagined if it were one of his five sons. I have a higher emotional threshold before I can graft on meaning, but I bet it gets coverage both because he famously compared his son's working on his campaign to military service and because we're all watching whether he cries after his Meet the Press appearance, in which tears came to his eyes when talking about the Mormon church decision to end discrimination.

At a press availability afterward, Romney was asked about his new show of emotion, and he said, "I'm a normal person. I have emotions." It reminded me of that line from The Elephant Man: "I am not an animal. I am a human being." (permalink)

Londonderry, N.H., 1:45 p.m.: I am waiting for Gov. Romney to arrive, and while I talk to one of his staffers, the sound guy checks the equipment. "One two yeah, one two, check, check, one two. Check one check two, one two. One, check, one two. Check one two. Check."

I realize after I finish my conversation that he's been doing this strange poetry slam for 15 minutes without interruption. "Yeah, ah, ah, oh, wowh. Two, oooo, oooooh, two, one." It was like he was either at a doctor's office or in a porn film. (permalink)

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