The Boston Phoenix
January 13 - 20, 2000


On the margin

The weird worlds of Forbes, Keyes, Hatch, and Bauer

by Margaret Doris

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- There is a long table wedged in a corner of the state Republican headquarters here, where presidential candidates are invited to drop off their campaign literature. The idea is to provide voters with one-stop shopping: instead of hitting the half-dozen campaign headquarters scattered throughout Manchester and Concord, they can get it all in a single visit. It's particularly popular with social-studies teachers, who grab armloads of the stuff to tote back to their classrooms.

Piled on the table is a red, white, and blue jumble of pamphlets, posters, bumper stickers, and videos. There's John McCain in his flight suit, George W. Bush squeezing a baby. Principle, freedom, morals, and taxes are all prominently featured themes. And then there's this handout: "Liberals beware: Quayle won't quit," it promises. "Quayle's . . . message caters to the national mood."

But the Quayle 2000 headquarters in Manchester were vacated months ago; an operator's recorded voice offers "no further information" about the disconnected phone number listed on the campaign literature. Hard to believe, but a little more than a year ago there were some 15 credible presumptive candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Somewhat predictably, Quayle is gone. But surprisingly, so too are a number of the other alleged bigfeet. Elizabeth "Don't Call Me Liddy" Dole moved swiftly off into the vice-presidential green room. Lamar! Alexander, who four years ago donned a plaid shirt and marched to the sea, stepped off the first curb, twisted his ankle, and limped home to Tennessee. Pat Buchanan -- one-time winner, two-time perceived victor in the New Hampshire primary -- forgot to secure his life raft before cutting himself loose from the GOP. The race, many believe, has narrowed to two: Texas governor George W. Bush and Arizona senator John McCain. But there are actually 14 candidates on the GOP ballot in New Hampshire, and four of those besides the front-runners -- publisher Steve Forbes, radio personality Alan Keyes, conservative Christian fundraiser Gary Bauer, and Utah senator Orrin Hatch -- are deemed credible enough (if barely so) to be included in debates and party events.

Also, Seth Gitell's New Hampshire diary
and Bill Bradley is so awkward he must be for real, right?

But can any of these men win? Can one of them place a strong enough second -- or even third -- so that, by the peculiar measure of presidential primaries (where a win is not always a win), he is considered the victor?

Campaign managers look in their tea leaves and mumble. They speak of the Iowa bounce, front-runner fumbles, the capriciousness of independent voters. They invoke the memory of Buchanan, particularly the 1992 Buchanan, who went from single polling digits to an upset victory in the last few weeks of the campaign. (Actually, he didn't win; when the last votes were counted, Vice-President George Bush had managed to hang on. But it was the appearance of victory that became the reality -- "projected winner" status enabled cameras to capture Buchanan's joyous victory speech while a palpable gloom settled over the Bush camp.)

And they remember the 1964 write-in campaign for Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge, then ambassador to South Vietnam, was legally precluded from campaigning for public office. His supporters soldiered on, undeterred by law or weather. On primary day, a storm dumped a foot of snow across New Hampshire. Lodge won in an upset, with 36 percent of the snow-depressed vote.

This is what a major Steve Forbes press conference looks like. With a little more than an hour to go before last Thursday's Republican debate, campaign co-chair Ken Blackwell is standing at a podium in the Oak Room in the University of New Hampshire's Huddleston Hall. The soda case is locked, a staffer apologizes to the half-dozen reporters assembled; unsubstantiated rumor has it that the Gore campaign made off with too many free Cokes the night before. A reporter gets up and leaves.

To Blackwell's left, perched on folding chairs, are the three horsemen of the last apocalypse: former secretary of defense (and Forbes magazine chairman) Caspar Weinberger, looking crumpled and small; conservative GOP moneyman Paul Weyrich, sweating profusely and leaning on his cane; and Reagan puppeteer Lyn Nofziger, the dapper member of this shuffleboard set, sporting red suspenders and a cheery cardigan. They are here to explain why Steve Forbes is the man to lead America into the new century.

A reporter finally interrupts: Forbes has been trying to lead for more than five years now. The cornerstone of two campaigns -- the flat tax -- has generated only minimal enthusiasm, and the primary is less than one month away.

"Take school vouchers," Weinberger begins by way of response. "I was in the California legislature long before anyone in this room was born -- "

"I remember," interrupts Nofziger, helpfully.

"And we were trying to pass school vouchers. Now you have a lot of interest in them. These are examples of how long change takes."

"It took Ronald Reagan two times around" before he was the nominee, Nofziger adds.

So Forbes is really running for, say, 2008? Well, not really, says Blackwell. "It depends on how the independents break. If they break for Bradley in Iowa, it can hurt us. If they break for McCain, we have a greater chance," because Bush will look vulnerable. "It's similar to the rate of growth and support for Buchanan in '95," he concludes. What he means is not immediately clear, but the three horsemen nod their vigorous agreement.

It's axiomatic that in New Hampshire, candidates have to press the flesh. But Gary Bauer's betting that it may be enough just to click the mouse. After he formally announced his candidacy last spring, the former Reagan adviser outlined his strategy for capturing the nomination: finishing in the top four in the Iowa straw poll (he finished fourth) and in the top three in the Louisiana, Alaska, and Iowa contests. Because caucus states have become increasingly sympathetic to organization by the religious right, Bauer (who -- George Will has been quick to observe -- "would not be America's shortest president") has expended considerable energy on efforts such as a bus trip through Louisiana (which, unfortunately for him, canceled its January 15 GOP caucuses) and numerous personal appearances in Iowa. He has campaigned in New Hampshire, making appearances at the major debates and fundraisers, but his Granite State profile has been considerably lower than that of his competitors. Potential supporters, however, can find Bauer Power simply by clicking on There, you can meet the candidate, check the issues, and, explains one staffer happily, "charge your donation online!"

Steve Forbes's campaign has brought 400 orange FORBES 2000 T- shirts, and they are trying to coax them onto the backs of the 300 young people attending Sunday's Presidential Youth Forum at St. Anselm's College in Goffstown. They are particularly targeting the babes, who are happy to accept free shirts but reluctant to pull them on over their Abercrombie & Fitch tiny tees.

St. Anselm's students Jennifer Murray and Laurel Clemence-Schreiner are happy to cop a few T-shirts. In their pleated wool skirts and pageboys, they look as if they fell out of Patty Duke's yearbook -- that is, if you manage to overlook the silver hoops piercing lip and eyebrow.

"I'm actually leaning toward Bush," says Laurel, but "orange is my favorite color, and I love free T-shirts!"

"When they treat us like adults, it makes a difference," adds Jennifer. "I'm leaning toward McCain."

At the other end of the hall, a lone staffer for Orrin Hatch is sharing a table with NHPirg and a very large bag of rubber bands. Nobody knows whom the rubber bands belong to, although an NHPirg representative -- perhaps noting that Hatch, unlike the other candidates, has no freebies and, curiously, no volunteer sign-up sheet -- suggests they could usefully be fired at rival candidates. Until recently, the Hatch staffer worked national advance for the candidate. With apparently less and less to advance, he's been assigned full-time to New Hampshire. No matter what, he says philosophically, there is a job waiting for him with Hatch's Senate re-election campaign.

Around the corner in a small conference room, a handful of journalists -- their ranks swelled considerably by two Media One cub reporters, their parents, and their advisers -- have gathered to question the Utah senator. "This is a miracle moment in time," Hatch says of his decision to make a late entry into the race. "I have a record of accomplishments I don't think any of [the other candidates] can meet."

And this is clearly a puzzle to Hatch. In a party where credentials and paying your dues once meant everything, they now mean next to nothing. He routinely shares the platform with a talk-show host, a magazine publisher, and a wet-behind-the-ears governor.

All three of them get more press attention than he does.

Hatch has refused federal matching funds for the primaries, and, inspired by a supporter, he's started a campaign to get one million people to send him $36 each. "If one million ordinary people do this," Michele Hodgkins told him, "you'll have the same amount as the candidate with all the money." But the dollars have been slow in coming.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch has made the selection of federal and Supreme Court judges the focus of his campaign. A social conservative, he also prides himself on his reputation as a conciliator. "The key is to treat people decently," he says. "Be kind and decent and good to everybody, and it spreads."

An MTV crew asks Hatch if he'd mind doing one of their "Choose or Lose" spots. They ask him to look into the camera and exhort simply, "Choose or lose!" But now that the cameras, for once, are on Orrin Hatch and Orrin Hatch alone, he is not going to stop at that. Pointing his finger, he leans in to the camera. "Hey, young people, choose to vote!" he begins. "You'll feel good," he continues, counting down a lengthy list of reasons to cast a ballot. "By gosh," he finally concludes, "you'll make a difference!"

A crimson carpet covers the ice in UNH's Whittemore Center, home of the number-one-ranked Wildcats. Red and blue spotlights flood the 1000 diners who have paid $200 a head to hear "the next president of the United States" -- presumably, one of the six Republican hopefuls -- speak. Every so often, the projected image of a large, white GOP elephant sweeps across the floor. Out of this miasma of colors, a spectral figure ascends to the podium.

It's Sunday night, and Alan Keyes is getting ready for an altar call. "Don't applaud if you don't care about it," he warns the assembled movers and shakers. There are no free rides on Alan Keyes's salvation train. This is the second run at the nomination for Keyes, who served in Reagan's State Department before taking his act on the road. If he is not always taken seriously as a candidate, he is always respected as a conscience.

"Great trials are coming," warns Keyes. "Great tests and great challenges." The modern-day equivalent of locusts and boils is just around the corner: "We will be armed with science and technology that will bring greater horrors than have ever been seen before." The crowd roars its approval.

Alan Keyes got a mere 2.7 percent of the vote in the 1996 New Hampshire primary. And yet he is back, pounding the podiums, kissing the babies, shaking the hands. Steve Forbes got 12.3 percent, enough to place him a very distant fourth. And he is back, leaning in to microphones, posing for pictures, handing out T-shirts. Senator Richard Lugar, the Orrin Hatch of 1996 -- a senior senator with stellar credentials -- got only 5.2 percent of the vote. He's gone, but another man cast in the same mold labors on.

Why do they do it, when the odds are long and the demands are grueling? Conventional wisdom has it that also-rans are positioned well for the short list of potential vice-presidential nominees. But the truth is, the Republicans haven't chosen a VP candidate from those ranks for 20 years. And although running for president may offer a bully pulpit, there are far easier ways -- say, as a talk-show host or a magazine publisher -- to find an audience for your message.

Ultimately, what keeps them going is the hope, however faint, that they can win. Maybe, finally, the campaign will catch fire. Maybe, one by one, the opponents will make terrible, irredeemable gaffes. Maybe, just maybe, in the early gray dawn of primary day, the skies will open up and cover New Hampshire with an impassable blanket of white.

After the speech, Keyes staffers are jubilant, slapping each other on the back and grinning into their cell phones. But Keyes himself, who often prowls the corridors long after an event's conclusion, looking for microphones attached to "folks in the media who aren't all that interested in the truth," is nowhere in evidence. Just for one night, he has stowed his act and slipped quietly out a back door.

Outside the arena, workers from the various campaigns are striking camp. Not a single vote has been cast; history hints that anything is still possible. T-shirts, bumper stickers, and videos are loaded into cardboard boxes. There are yard signs to be pulled up and replanted at the next venue. Car trunks slam shut.

It is not quite cold enough to freeze your breath. Overhead the clouds are dark, and the stars are shrouded in smoke. Do you think, the workers ask each other as they fumble for their keys, it smells like snow?