PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — Forget the Bush twins and the Kerry girls. Put Teresa and Laura out of your mind. The most intriguing woman of this election season may well turn out to be Doris Haddock, the 94-year-old New Hampsherite better known as Granny D.
The nonagenarian became a neo-populist folk hero back in 1999, when she walked from Pasadena, California, to Washington, DC, to champion campaign-finance reform. Now she’s running for US Senate in the Granite State. Her mission: unseating popular Republican incumbent Judd Gregg.
Haddock, who was something of a press darling during her cross-country trek, has yet to reclaim the media spotlight. There have been no The Daily Show appearances, no chats with Dave or Conan — at least, not yet. But Haddock has the potential to serve as a sort of Democratic secret weapon. After all, she’s a cute old lady who dispenses devastating takedowns of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. And with the recent addition to her campaign of Joe Trippi — who presided over Howard Dean’s improbable ascent last year and is aiding Haddock as a consultant on a pro bono basis — Haddock’s chances of waging a meaningful battle on behalf of the Democratic Party were greatly improved.
But while the potential for a funky insurgency is undeniable — just think of all those disenfranchised Deaniacs at the University of New Hampshire who will be desperate for something to do this fall — the reality is that Haddock faces long odds. Gregg, a two-term incumbent, previously served as governor and enjoys broad support throughout the state. Democratic state senator Burt Cohen planned to challenge Gregg in this year’s general election, but no one really gave him much of a chance, either. When Cohen exited the race after his campaign manager absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds, it left a vacuum only Haddock was willing to fill. "It’s like running against Ted Kennedy," says PoliticsNH.com’s James Pindell of Haddock’s challenge.
Then there’s the delicate matter of Haddock’s nine-plus decades — her pledge to serve only one term notwithstanding. Haddock is a charismatic woman who gives a mean stump speech. In her interactions with the public, she inspires protectiveness, reverence, and general delight. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are vulnerable to Haddock’s charms as well; both Jimmy Carter and John McCain have lauded her as a Great American. But while Haddock is lucid and energetic, her age is impossible to ignore. Her skin, etched with a multitude of deep lines, resembles fine but very worn leather. When she speaks in public, her voice is strong, but in one-on-one conversation she is much quieter, pausing often to process questions or track down elusive words. When Haddock walks — and she plans to walk more than 200 miles between now and November to bring her message to the Granite State’s voters — she does so with the trademark stoop of the very old, leaning toward the earth, breathing heavily from emphysema-afflicted lungs, and periodically clutching her aching back as she strides ahead. Yes, Haddock is spry. But she’s 94 years old.
Given her age and her competition — as well as her seeming lack of enthusiasm for John Kerry (more on that later) — the true nature of Haddock’s quest remains unclear. Is she a Democratic asset waiting to be tapped? An amusing novelty candidate, à la Fred Tuttle? Or, in a worst-case scenario, a worrisome liability in a very important election year? With Election Day less than three months away, no one — not even Haddock herself — seems entirely sure.
HADDOCK’S CAMPAIGN-kickoff speech last Thursday morning, which she delivered in the middle of Portsmouth’s Market Square, felt like an outtake from an old black-and-white film. In her youth, before she became a wife, mother, and anti-hydrogen-bomb activist, Haddock studied public speaking at Emerson College, and her oratory is still marked by aspirated T’s, dramatic cadences, and an upper-crusty, pseudo-British accent.
This style may be dated, but it also lends old-newsreel drama to her words — and the words she uses in calling for national health care, criticizing the war in Iraq, and railing against corporate domination of politics are often compelling. "There are many people who are doubtful that a 94-year-old woman can get from here to the US Senate, but there are good reasons to think this campaign will work — and I am not in the habit of losing," Haddock declared. "Democracy cannot be hired out. There is too much power involved, and it corrupts absolutely if we, the common people, do not manage it ourselves with a humble spirit and a willingness to cast our own self-interest into oblivion.... If our choice is between a strip-searched Fortress America and, on the other hand, the beautiful world we all long for, what is keeping us from making the beautiful choice? Is it the distortions of the political system? The special interests? The selfish posturing of people who call themselves leaders but who, in fact, only take up valuable space at a critical time in the world’s history? Well, let us joyfully roll over them."
The picture of Doris Haddock that emerges when you spend time with her resembles the one presented in her book, Granny D: You’re Never Too Old To Raise a Little Hell (Villard, 2003) — that of a woman who, despite her age and diminutive stature, knows what she wants, usually gets it, and is not to be trifled with. For example, after pondering campaign-finance reform with a group of friends in her hometown of Dublin, New Hampshire, Haddock — who was recently widowed and also mourning the death of a close friend — undertook her epic 1999 walk to help make the next stage of her life meaningful.
The truth is, though, that Haddock had to be cajoled into running for Senate. Five hours and one five-mile walk after her campaign kickoff, and fresh from a restorative nap, Haddock sits in the lush back yard of a Portsmouth supporter and tells me how she came to enter the race. Earlier this year, she was on the road, registering voters in battleground states, when fatigue prompted her to return to Dublin for a few days. While she was there, Cohen dropped out of the race at the last minute, leaving prospective replacements precious little time to step in.
"My son came to me one morning at 6:30," Haddock recalls. "He had been listening to the radio, and he said, ‘How would you like to run for the Senate?’ I said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ He said, ‘No, but poor Dan [sic] Cohen has tried to resign, and you’ve got until 5:30 tonight to decide whether or not you want to do it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to do it. I’m not qualified. I’m not ready for it. I mean, at 94 — that’s crazy.’ And he said, ‘Well, it would give you a chance to have a platform — you could try, you might not win, but at least you would be able to talk about what your love is, and that you would not have it any other way.’ So I said, ‘Gee, I hadn’t thought about that. That’s true.’" Next came a hastily arranged meeting with state Democratic Party officials, in which Haddock promised she’d fight to win and vowed to support John Kerry (she voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, but now says she regrets doing so). By the end of the day, Haddock — whose experience as an office-holder has been limited to a stint on Dublin’s town-planning board — was a freshly minted Senate candidate.page 1 page 2
Issue Date: August 20 - 26, 2004
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