New Hampshire punches above its weight during primary season. But, damn, we are an eager bunch. Many of us moonlight every four years as mystery shoppers who take their presidential vetting job as seriously as the one that pays the bills. So when candidates stage events anywhere close to my small New Hampshire town, I show up.
Ohio Governor John Kasich commanded center stage with ease on Tuesday night at the Monadnock Country Club in Peterborough. A confident man in his light blue, open-collared shirt, his tieless amiability went over well. Mostly. He touted his everyman credentials with his postal worker parents and working-class, Pennsylvania town upbringing. He answered (some) questions directly, though sometimes had to be prompted with a follow-up question to be clear about his positions. He was a bit snippy with a young woman who asked a question about climate change, trying to disparage her for using a talking point that he'd heard twice that day at other events -- namely, that there is a consensus among 97% (or more) of climate scientists that climate change is real. So his nice-guy image cracked a bit.
When he claimed vehemently that raising the payroll tax cap could not come close to fixing social security, the math major in me cringed. I am no expert, but the reports I've read show otherwise in simple mathematical terms; this step could go a long way toward fixing social security. So, as amiable as he may be, he is not interested in boosting the solvency of the social security system by asking people to pay payroll taxes on income earned above the current $118,500 payroll tax cap. A demerit on the issues.
Senator Rand Paul was another story Wednesday afternoon at his lunchtime meet-and-greet at the Peterborough Diner. While Mr. Kasich seemed to soak in energy from his audience, Mr. Paul appeared to be drained by the crowd. Frankly, he did not look like he particularly enjoyed talking to people. When I placed myself in line to ask him a question, he moved past me so quickly that the best I could do was thrust my hand forward for a quick handshake, which he managed with little eye contact. For an opthamologist, he didn't seem to see that well.
But he looked good, playing the common man role with his black-and-white checked shirt, jeans and Ray-Ban sunglasses. A smile could have been his best accessory though; I don't think I saw him smile at all. Instead he came across as a sinewy boxer searching for ways to land a figurative punch. You could see the single-minded filibusterer in him as he drilled through the small crowd. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to ask him a question and the cramped space didn't allow me to hear him talk on the issues. This is a candidate you may have to see twice to confirm your first impression. The price you pay for living in New Hampshire.
So, two down and, at last count, 17 more candidates to go. And that's only the first viewing. It's a spectacular ride in a state whose plain-talking citizens consider themselves as smart as any candidate. Maybe smarter. Stay tuned for updates.