Michelle Obama's closing

In a surprise appearance at an 11 p.m. Concord rally, Michelle Obama showed up to introduce her husband. "The beauty of Iowa was not just the win but the way it was done, double the number of caucus goers, more people engaged in the process with that message of hope," she said. "Hope and dreams are where things start, that's the beginning, not the end. If we cannot envision a better way for ourselves and our children, we get nowhere."

Whether Obama wins or loses, she said, the state's voters will have helped "change history in a way where people are believing in the possibility of all of us."

Despite the late hour, hundreds of people, including large groups of high school and college students, filled the Concord High School gym cheering loudly and enthusiastically throughout the speech.

- Shira Schoenberg


Why Chuck isn't a politician

Mitt Romney should be thanking his lucky stars that Mike Huckabee is Mike Huckabee and not Chuck Norris.

Introducing Huckabee at a pancake house this morning, Norris jokingly threatened violence. He said if he were Huckabee and someone tried to mischaracterize his record -- as Huckabee said Romney did in last night's Fox News debate -- he'd take him out, kung-fu-style.

"In these debates . . . if you say the wrong thing, they're going to crucify you," Norris said. "Or if a guy says the wrong thing about you and you respond, they'll crucify you anyway. I don't have the skin for it. . . . The first time the guy started saying the things they say to Mike Huckabee, I'd be choking him unconscious. That's what I would have done last night."

***

Before Huckabee waded his way through a crush of media at The Barley House in Concord to premiere his "Huckaburger," he had a quieter and unscheduled exchange with an undecided voter at Bread and Chocolate, a pastry shop down the street. Nancy Davis wandered into a relatively empty Bread and Chocolate to buy her breakfast and ran smack into Huckabee, who was chatting with a few supporters. After placing her order, Davis turned around and recommended the shop's signature item, the bread and chocolate, to Huckabee and his wife, Janet, who were mulling over the dessert case. Then Davis mentioned that she still hadn't chosen a presidential candidate.

"It would be an honor to have your vote," Huckabee said.

Davis said afterward that she's leaning toward either Huckabee or Democrat Barack Obama. Huckabee impressed her during their brief interaction, she said. "When he talked to me, he looked me right in the eye," Davis said.

***

With Huckabee running late to a rally in Rochester tonight (he flew from New Hampshire to New York and back again this afternoon to tape the Late Show with David Letterman), his wife took the microphone to kill some time before her husband's arrival. Addressing a crowd of about 500 people, she talked about her time as first lady of Arkansas, saying it "prepared me to do what I'm fixin' to do:" become the first lady of the United States. The highlights of her tenure in Arkansas? Jumping out of a plane with the U.S. Army and pulling 9 G's with the state Air National Guard. "I didn't get sick," she said. "I didn't throw up. And I did not pass out. Just so you'll know."

- Melanie Asmar


Where's Mom?

John McCain traveled today with an entourage of friends and family large enough to fill its own bus. (For the record, this bus did not break down.) At his rallies, McCain took the stage with his wife, Cindy, and his daughters Meghan, 23, and Bridget 16.

But what of his 95-year-old mother, whose vigor McCain always cites when he's asked by voters about his age?

She's on vacation in France.

"As I recall, she said, 'Johnny, I just have to leave the country,' " McCain recalled this morning on his campaign bus, imitating his mother's voice. " 'The tension is too high.' "

- Margot Sanger-Katz


Hecklers flock to Rudy

With rows of national and international press cameras to exploit for a cause, hecklers are showing up at campaign events for Democrats and Republicans alike. But Rudy Giuliani, a hawkish Republican who supports abortion rights and made a few enemies as mayor of New York, seems to have a bull's eye on his back. Nearly every time he meets with voters, protesters descend with shouts and homemade signs.

Rescue workers angry at his handling of 9/11 and the health of those who worked in the dust at Ground Zero held signs at his pre-debate rally Saturday. When Giuliani stopped at a diner in Nashua this morning, campaign supporters held a "Rudy" sign in front of one that read, "NYC says no to Rudy." As he spoke to a scrum of reporters squeezed between the diner's front window and a pile of snow on the sidewalk, a man talked over him. "City firefighters love Giuliani. Thank you. Mr. Mayor, thank you."

Anti-abortion protesters have crashed several events, asking Giuliani when he'll stop the killing of babies, telling him he has blood on his hands. At a town hall meeting in Derry, a man waited until the last questioner to stand up and shout, "He's not a Republican," comparing aborted fetuses to those killed in the Holocaust.

Giuliani, who seemed annoyed with hecklers at previous events but largely ignored them, was unflappable with this one. "It's okay," he told the crowd as the man was escorted out. "I come from New York." The crowd erupted in laughter and applause.

- Joelle Farrell


Protesters earn Obama's admiration

About 20 anti-abortion protesters were ejected from the Rochester Opera House after disrupting a rally for Barack Obama today. Obama had barely started speaking around 6 p.m. when the protesters, standing in the back of the opera house balcony, started chanting "Abortion is an abomination."

Almost immediately, much of the crowd, which numbered around 850, started booing, then burst into chants of Obama's signature cheer, "Fired up, ready to go," trying to drown out the protesters. Obama tried to calm the room, reassuring the protesters that he heard them, understood their position and would be happy to talk to them after the rally. As the yelling from both sides continued, he held up his hand for quiet and said, "This is an example of no one hearing each other."

After about a minute, the protesters were led out by security officials, to cheers from the crowd. Rochester Fire Captain Tom Bonneau said they were peacefully escorted out to the door, and there were no arrests.

After they were gone, Obama waited until the room settled down, then praised the protesters. "Some people get organized to do that, and that's part of the American tradition that we're proud of," he said. "That's hard to do, standing in the midst of people who don't agree with you."

He then continued with his stump speech.

- Shira Schoenberg


Clinton: 'This is very personal'

In the final day of campaigning before New Hampshire's presidential primary, the Democratic race continued to hinge on change, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both describing themselves as best-equipped to bring campaign promises to fruition. But much of the day's political news was dominated by something Clinton did rather than said.

In a Portsmouth restaurant this morning, a voter asked Clinton how she keeps going during such a difficult campaign. "It's not easy. And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I've had so many opportunities from this country, I just don't want to see us fall backwards," Clinton said, getting choked up. "This is very personal for me. It's not just political; it's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it.

"Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds," Clinton continued, her eyes welling up. "But some of us are right and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready and some of us are not. . . . So as tired as I am -- and I am -- and as difficult as it is to try to kind of keep up with what I try to do on the road like occasionally exercise and try to eat right -- it's tough when the easiest food is pizza -- I just believe so strongly in who we are as a nation so I'm going to do everything I can to make my case."

Clinton's campaign described the emotional moment as evidence of Clinton's depth of feeling for the nation's future. "She was expressing how strongly she feels," said Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand. "She's obviously very passionate about the direction of this country."

- Sarah Liebowitz


Bill Clinton: Here's your choice

After delivering a spirited defense of his wife's accomplishments today, Bill Clinton implied that some voters may be leaning toward other candidates for superficial reasons. "I can't make her younger, taller or change her gender," Clinton said at Daniel's Restaurant in Henniker.

Clinton went on to describe the choice as an easy one -- so long as voters are interested in reality, not rhetoric. The current political climate, Clinton said, seems to be one in which experience is "a disability."

"You now have basically three main candidates left. One of them has passed an enormous amount of legislation with Republican co-sponsors in a relatively short amount of time," he said, referring to his wife. "One of them has represented America in 80 countries around the world and made friends all around the world. And one of them has worked in the White House and failed at health care, which I think is a good thing. . . . And one of them really does believe that public service is an honor."

"If you think that, as the argument is being made in this election, that we should systematically eliminate anybody who's brought about any positive change in the past . . . you have a choice. If you think that we should vote for somebody who can actually deliver change, I don't think it's close," Clinton said.

He went on to describe his presidential run. Although young at the time, "I was the longest-serving governor in America. I thought it was a good thing I had a record I could point to and things I had done," he said. "We're in a new era where apparently that's a disability. If the question is who is likely to be the best president, you have an easy choice. If the question is who is most likely to be a person I've never seen before, you have an easy choice. But don't pretend it's not a choice."

- Sarah Liebowitz


Fred heads for Greenville

Fred Thompson will skip the New Hampshire primary tomorrow to begin an 11-day bus tour in South Carolina, according to The State.

While New Hampshire voters go to the polls, Thompson will make stops in Greenville, Lexington, Camden and Columbia, S.C., according to a schedule e-mailed to his supporters. Thompson came to the Granite State for Republican debates on Saturday and yesterday but made no public appearances. A spokesman for his campaign said Thompson was driving today to South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary on Jan. 19.

In an interview on MSNBC Friday, Thompson said, "It's all about South Carolina" and said, "we're not competitive in New Hampshire."

- Kate Davidson


Richardson's to-do list

Bill Richardson returned to basics today, delivering a stump speech similar to the one he rolled out when he first started campaigning in New Hampshire a year ago. Between one-liners, Richardson detailed his presidential to-do list -- end the war in Iraq, promote green energy, scrap No Child Left Behind, boost border security through diplomacy and manpower, not a fence.

For those of us who can practically repeat the speech in our sleep, Richardson's tactics were not extraordinary, but they seemed to resonate with voters. After he spoke at the Timberland factory in Stratham, the audience critiqued him on its way out the door.

"I was impressed," one woman said. "I didn't figure he'd have that kind of presence," remarked another. A third woman pledged her vote after Richardson gave her a hug on his way out of the building.

In previous blog posts, we've described Richardson's wardrobe. Although he replaced the flannel shirt with a blazer today, he kept his well-worn L.L. Bean muck-lucks. The shoes are warm and waterproof but low slung, a problem in this winter's deep slush. They're also made by one of Timberland's biggest competitors, a fact that didn't escape Richardson. Before leaving the factory, he purchased a couple of pairs of boots from the store.

"Make sure I pay," said Richardson, who doesn't carry credit cards with him on the trail. Then he turned to this reporter. "She'll check up on me."

UPDATE: A lot of people are wondering whether Richardson wants to be vice president. Well, we met the man who wants Richardson to be president so he can serve as his second in command. Raymond Stebbins, a candidate for vice president on tomorrow's ballot, showed up at Richardson's Manchester rally.

Stebbins, a Massachusetts lawyer, took a shine to the man from New Mexico. "I'm leaning his way," he said. "But I know he'll make his own decisions" for vice president.

- Meg Heckman


Free punditry from Team Edwards

Continuing to paint the race as a two-man contest, John Edwards's advisers came down hard on the Clinton campaign during a 1:15 p.m. conference call. Senior adviser Joe Trippi said anything but a first-place finish for Clinton in New Hampshire will be "a complete failure and, again, a rejection of the status quo candidacy."

"New Hampshire is a make-or-break state for Clinton," he said. "For us, it's a state where we're going to fight for every vote we can."

Deputy campaign director Jonathan Prince said the candidate thought to be the inevitable nominee -- Clinton -- came in third in Iowa. And the candidate thought to be the impossible nominee -- Edwards -- came in second. "We're clearly climbing, and she's clearly falling," he said. "So we feel pretty good going into tomorrow."

They and Campaign Manager David Bonior said the race is one that will be won delegate by delegate, not by a won-loss record in the early states. Trippi said the campaign retooled this summer in preparation for that, streamlining operations for the longhaul. The Clinton campaign, he said, did not.

"It's a lot harder to go through that process right now in the thick of New Hamsphire and these other states," Trippi said. "To carry that load the whole way is, I think, going to be very prohibitive to them."

- Chelsea Conaboy


Obama: Hopes aren't false

In Lebanon today, Barack Obama sought to use even his opponents' criticisms to his advantage -- turning a barb from Hillary Clinton into a comparison with Martin Luther King Jr. In a discussion of change during the Democratic debate Saturday night, Clinton said, "We don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered." Obama responded that in a country built on hope, "there's no such thing" as false hopes.

"Is JFK looking up at the moon, saying, 'False hopes, it's too far, reality check, we can't do it'?" Obama asked a crowd of 750. "Is Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out over the magnificent crowd, the reflecting pool, the Washington monument, saying, 'Sorry guys, false hopes, the dream will die. It can't be done'? We don't need leaders who tell us what we can't do. We need those who can inspire us to do."

Although he never mentioned his opponents by name, he answered several of their recent criticisms. He acknowledged the perception that his speeches are vague, saying, "The changes we're talking about are not vague and amorphous. People keep saying what does he mean by change? If you want to go on my website and read the 25-page health care plan I have . . . go ahead."

And he responded to John Edwards, who has criticized Obama for his willingness to meet with drug and insurance companies. "If you know who you are, what you believe in, know who you're fighting for . . . you can afford to reach out across the aisle," he said. "If you've got a working majority of the American people behind you, you can fear no man. You can walk into a room with a sunny disposition and . . . if they disagree with you, you have the votes, you can beat them and you can do it with a smile on your face."

- Shira Schoenberg


Root, root, root for the home team

Mitt Romney drew more than 500 people – with more waiting outside – to a town hall meeting tonight at a middle school in the Republican stronghold of Bedford.

Before Romney arrived, adviser Tom Rath revved up the crowd by leading them in song and dance to “Sweet Caroline,” the unofficial Red Sox anthem. As Rath pumped his fists and swayed, the crowd kept shouting “so good, so good!” after the next song started.

The crowd greeted Romney with whistles and cheers of “Mitt, Mitt.” When a young woman who said she was from upstate New York asked Romney a question, he even got a laugh.

“Welcome, welcome,” Romney said. “You’re in a place of low taxes and friendly people.”

- LAUREN R. DORGAN


What's in a Huckaburger?

At lunchtime today, Mike Huckabee and about 100 members of the national and foreign press -- and oh yeah, a couple dozen voters -- hit up The Barley House in Concord for a light lunch. The menu? The Huckaburger, an herb-seared bison patty with baby spinach and tomato on a whole wheat bun with fries and a deep-fried pickle.

The burger was to be available for one day only, as part of The Barley House's regular Brew 'n' Burger Monday, which features burger specials and cheap beer. (Not that we'd know, or anything.) The other specials include the Red State Burger, the Blue State Burger and the Undecided.

The crowd of TV cameras and sound guys standing on tables made it impossible for anyone without a step ladder to catch a glimpse of the formerly overweight governor chowing down on his namesake burger.

He must've had a bite, though, because afterward he told a TV crew, "Tomorrow, there's a primary here. It's the best hamburger I've ever had in my life."

Lynn Woodard, an independent voter from Concord, had a Huckaburger, too. He said it was pretty good. He also mentioned he's considering voting for either Huckabee or for Democrats Barack Obama or John Edwards.

"I'm very much looking towards someone who could unify the country," Woodard said.

- Melanie Asmar


Bill, it's Hillary calling

Eighteen minutes into Bill Clinton's event at Daniel's Restaurant in Henniker this morning, a cell phone went off. In a moment reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani's cell phone moment -- during a speech last year, Giuliani took a call from his wife -- Clinton realized the phone ringing was his.

"Only Hillary has my number -- it couldn't be anybody else. I don't even have my number," he said, to laughter.

No sooner had he continued with his speech than the phone rang a second time. He picked up. "I'm at your meeting here," Clinton said, apparently to his wife. "What did you say?" he asked into the phone. "I'll tell them that. Okay, I love you."

- Sarah Liebowitz


McCain diary: 'I think it's his time'

John McCain is rounding out his New Hampshire campaign with a marathon of seven city rallies, hitting many of the same spots he visited on his final tour in 2000, when he won the primary here. Riding the bus this morning, McCain said it feels like old times and that he believes he will win, but he also said that after the turmoil of the campaign this time around, he’s pleased with how it’s turned out.

"However we end up, we can now say that we have run an honorable campaign,” he said.

Rally one: Nashua

A crowd of more than 200 filled the steps of Nashua’s city hall as McCain made his way to the top over “Johnny B. Goode” and chants of “The Mac is Back.” His pitch was quick. Thanks for your support. Tomorrow, New Hampshire will pick the next president. “I’ve got to tell you, there’s a lot of nostalgia associated with this moment,” he said. “It’s been an uplifting and wonderful experience.”

Elaine White of Hudson, perched atop a snow bank in a hat, was optimistic about her candidate’s chances. “I think it’s his shot. I think it’s his time,” she said.

She said she settled on McCain about five weeks ago, after seeing him speak at two town hall meetings. "In some aspects and some times when I’ve gone to town hall meetings, he’s touched my heart,” she said.

UPDATE: Rally two: Keene

Same theme music, similar sized crowd of sign holders bopping to the tune. John and Cindy McCain both thanked their supporters enthusiastically. “New Hampshire has given us such great memories and such great times,” Cindy McCain said. McCain’s talk also began with thanks (and ended there too -- he shook hands for about twice as long as he spoke), but it was not all puffery.

“Nobody can buy an election here in the state of New Hampshire,” McCain said, repeating a line he’s been using frequently this week. The line generally seems to register as a veiled criticism of rival Mitt Romney, who’s poured millions of his own fortune into the campaign. Today, McCain made that reference more explicit.

“I don’t care how many attack ads you buy. I don’t care how many people you hire,” he said, thanking the people of the state for giving the candidates lots of personal scrutiny. "That’s why we’re going to win here tomorrow, because the people of New Hampshire have seen me,” he said.

He gave a compressed version of his stump speech, emphasizing his commitment to cut government spending and waste and his national security credentials, and committing to improving veterans’ health benefits, to the delight of many vets in the crowd. Then, in case anyone had missed the first reference, he threw in another veiled reference to Romney, whom the McCain campaign and others have accused of tailoring their message to suit public opinion.

“What I will do will not be driven by any poll. It will be driven by principle,” he said to loud applause.

Romney dig number three: "One of my opponents said not long ago, ‘You don’t need foreign policy experience' " -- a Romney statement that the McCain campaign has used in several ads. "My friends, look at the world, look at the world."

He ended with a look back at his own campaign, which many observers said was over this summer. “I said that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war,” McCain said, recalling the “No Surrender” tour that he and many of his veteran friends made to gather support for the troop surge in Iraq. He credits the tour as helping beat back an attempt by Senate Democrats to pass a timetable for troop withdrawal. “We beat them,” he said, in a seeming reference to both the Democrats and the political naysayers.

The crowd included many staffers and volunteers, and also several diehards. Gretchen Wittenborg, who said her husband has been a longtime McCain booster, said he’ll have her vote as well. She stood on Keene’s center square in a down vest holding a McCain sign with a miniature flag taped to the top. “I’m sort of hungry for some dignity and some substance,” she said. “I like the idea of sort of a steady rudder.”

- Margot Sanger-Katz


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