Review of John Edwards's December 29, 2006 Speech in Portsmouth, NH

Copyright © Timothy Horrigan & James Horrigan 2007

The Friday after Christmas 2006, John Edwards made his first visit to New Hampshire as an announced 2008 Presidential candidate. The event took place at an elementary school in Portsmouth, NH, a couple of blocks from my parents house. My father and I went to see him. My commentary (though not his was published on

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John Edwards in Portsmouth, NH; December 29, 2006
by Timothy Horrigan

The 2008 Presidential election is a long way away... it's still 2006, and the mid-term elections were only a few weeks ago.  But the New Hampshire primary season  is already in full swing, as anyone who went near the Little Harbour School on Friday afternoon can attest.

The John Edwards  campaign was evidently hoping for a crowd of a few hundred people at their event in the school gym.  Over 2,000 citizens showed up: about half of them made it into the gym.  The rest stood outside on one of the coldest afternoon of the winter so far (which admittedly is not saying much, since this has been one of the warmest winters ever recorded here in New Hampshire.)

This is an auspicious moment for a candidate like John Edwards, since the Democrats won the midterm election largely because  many Republicans abandoned their party after six years of George W. Bush's radical (and grossly incompetent) rule.  Edwards represented a conservative state, North Carolina, and he is a fairly conservative and traditional person like himself.  But at the same time, his conservative ideals have led him to take some very progressive positions, especially on economic issues.  (I suppose it may be silly to say this, since the Republicans are always smearing Democrats as Marxists, but some of Edwards' ideas do echo those of Marx, Engels, etc.  This is probably not because he is a Marxist, but rather because of Marx's indirect influence on the political tradition which Edwards is trying to revive, i.e., the optimistic liberalism which ruled our country from the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt through that of Richard M. Nixon.)

A big banner on the side of the Little Harbour Gym (which was also festooned with all manner of motivational banners permanently installed by the faculty and staff of the school,  some of which were incomprhensible to outsiders like myself)  read "Tomorrow Begins Today."  This slogan is a conscious echo of Bill Clinton's favorite pop-song chorus "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."  (Another echo of Bill Clinton was his "body man": Edwards was followed closely at all times by a young male staffer who bore an eerie resemblance to President Clinton.)

The slogan is more than a slogan: his message was relentlessly forward-looking, and in addition to his own campaign he promoted his group OneCorps, which is devoted to grassroots projects designed to build a better future locally.

The event began rather chaotically, for myself at least.  My father, Jim Horrigan, and I had Blue Tickets, which ostensibly had priority over the White Tickets.  However, the door to the school was locked for a while before the fire marshall decided to let a few more people in.  (There was plenty of floor space  inside the 1960s-vintage facility, but there was a shortage of fire exits.) Edwards decided to come out and address  the throng outside, but he was inaudible without a microphone.  While his sound man scrambled around getting a wireless mike working (there were speakers outside) my dad and I were allowed inside.  

When we got inside we were stick behind the TV camera riser.  We could hear Edwards but we couldn't see the stage (which he was in any case not yet standing on, since he was still outside.)  He gave a brief rundown of his main talking points, which ended abruptly. During the awkward pause which followed, my father decided to walk home and give up his spot inside to another citizen.

Edwards then came inside and spoke for an hour.  (I was able to find a spot where I could actually see him.)  The Senator's main themes were bringing the troops home from Iraq, universal health care, ending poverty, creating a more just socioeconomic system, and restoring America's leadership position in the world.  He was at time almost too thoughtful for his own good-- when asked about social security and health care he undercut himself a little by referring to proprosals  and plans which he hasn't  finished putting together yet.  A less thoughtful candidate could have tried to get away with covering these issues in vague generalities.  He only went off topic once: he  fielded a question about gay marriage which he had to obfuscate, because he is in fact against gay marriage (at least against gay marriage under the name of "marriage.")

All in all, it was a strong performance, and if he continues like this, he has a great chance of in fact becoming what he was called as he entered the gym, i.e., the "Next President of the United States."

 And here is my father's take on the event.

The John Edwards Presidential Announcement in New Hampshire

(James Horrigan's Observations)

A bright, chilly day marked John Edwards' New Hampshire announcement of his new presidential campaign. By noon, overflow parking had already reached our neighborhood, more than three blocks away, a sure sign that a large crowd was arriving.

Long lines snaked out from the entrance to the Little Harbour School. Much confusion was evident about the status of tickets and who should be waiting in which line. The few event workers passing by the lines did not clear up that confusion. We eventually learned that we were eligible for "blue" tickets, which presumably were a special priority.

However, we were still not admitted to the school building because the Portsmouth Fire Marshall was concerned about the number of people already inside. Other notable political personalities were stuck outside in the cold raw air, including Congresswoman Carole Shea-Porter's husband and also her campaign manager, Sue Mayer, political pundit Arnie Arneson, and Strafford Country chairwoman, Joan Ashwell, among others.

While waiting, we were blasted with loud raucous music from some large outdoor speakers, which made conversation almost impossible. John Edwards emerged outside and tried to talk to those of us not lucky enough to gain admission. However, the sound system was not on and only those few directly in front of him could hear anything. The sound system did turn on sporadically, but it spewed out short bursts of loud music rather than John Edwards' remarks.

Suddenly, the Fire Marshall relented and allowed our group to go inside for standing-room-only access. From my vantage point, I could only see the backs of tall people's heads. John Edwards voice was reverberating over a booming indoor sound system. He was nowhere in sight, and it was only later that I learned he was actually still outside speaking to the people who could not gain admission.

His remarks were very brief. (That is, the remarks that I heard.) He alluded to his overall concern with poverty in America. He then called for universal health care and new initiatives on global warming.

Initially, I thought that he was calling for a radical approach to global warming. He stated that alternative energy sources would not be enough: the American people would have to "sacrifice". That is, they would have to conserve energy as well. But then he used an example of driving a hybrid SUV instead of a regular SUV, which hardly seemed like much of a "sacrifice."

In any event, his speech suddenly ended, without any inspiring conclusions. I thought that was a bit curious, but apparently the malfunctioning sound system had shut down inside, while he was still delivering the speech outside.

At that point, the Fire Marshall relented yet again and let in more people. The auditorium was becoming quite packed with humanity, and I beat a retreat because of incipient feelings of claustrophobia. Incredibly, a few of the campaign workers were reluctant to let me leave, even though a mob of people were packed against the entrance to the auditorium, hoping to press their way past the firemen blocking it.

So I presumably missed much of the main event. As I strolled back home, I was left with two overall impressions: the large crowd and the inept management.

In regard to the crowd, the numbers obviously exceeded everyone's expectations. I would hazard a guess that at least 1,000 people tried to attend, but I have no idea how many actually got inside. Clearly, something is up here. Large numbers of people are already interested in the presidential primary, even though it is not 2007 yet. Change is in the air, which bodes well for Democratic presidential candidates.

As for the management of the event, I will attribute that to a staff still on the early part of their learning curves. Let's hope that they learn from their mistakes quickly because the entrance fiasco must have created some lingering unhappiness with the Edwards campaign, especially on the part of some notables whom they can ill afford to annoy. After all, first impressions can matter.

  In 2010, I cosponsored a somewhat controversial bill, repealing New Hampshire's 200-year-old adultery laws:

The Forgotten Liars by Timothy Horrigan