McCain, Kerry Return to NH Campaign Trail

John McCain, John Kerry, and Dan Balz

U.S. Sen. John Kerry recently received a photo of himself taking in the State of the Union while seated next to fellow Sen. John McCain. The print was a gift from McCain, who signed it, “The two losers, together again.”

Maybe so, Kerry conceded, before reminding the crowd that at least the two senators have a lifetime 3-0 record in winning the New Hampshire primary.

That was one of many anecdotes told by Kerry, McCain, and other speakers at Friday’s New Hampshire Primary Awards dinner benefiting the NH Institute of Politics & Political Library attended by a bi-partisan crowd of close to 500 veterans of first-in-the-nation primaries past. The dinner was held at the Brady Sullivan tower in Manchester.          

Kerry joked that he and McCain had arrived in Manchester on the “Huntsman flight: Bypass Iowa, straight to New Hampshire.”

Gov. John Lynch, appearing one day after announcing he would not seek re-election next year, received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd – not the last one he’s likely to receive over the coming sixteen months. The governor joked that he’d gotten himself in trouble last night by referring to his wife, Dr. Susan Lynch, as a lame duck first lady.

Meanwhile, guests greeted one another with jokes about how they’d heard the other was forming an exploratory committee for their own campaign to succeed Lynch. Several likely candidates were working the room, including Republican Ovide Lamontagne and Democrat Maggie Hassan.

Rep. Charlie Bass spoke about Sec. of State Bill Gardner, joking that Gardner’s mild-mannered demeanor masks “a devious and tactical mind” intent on doing whatever it takes to preserve the primary’s leadoff status.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz spoke about the late David Broder, who was also honored at the dinner with an award received by his son, Josh Broder. Balz told a humorous story about how the senior Broder once missed the first 30 minutes of a 1980 presidential debate.

In the evening’s longest remarks, Kerry credited New Hampshire with having made him “a hell of a better candidate.” Speaking without notes, Kerry listed campaign staff and made specific references to campaign stops at the Hampton Firehouse #2, the Dover VFW hall, and the Irish Rover bar. He recounted how then-Manchester Mayor Bob Baines fulfilled a pledge to endorse Kerry, delivering at a time when Kerry was down in the polls to Howard Dean. “He could’ve taken a duck but he didn’t,” Kerry said of Baines.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte recalled doing her first town hall event accompanied by McCain. After it was over, Ayotte said she told her husband, “Even if I lose, that was the experience of a lifetime.”

Both Kerry and McCain spoke about Vietnam, with McCain pointing out that come 2013, there will only be two remaining Vietnam vets serving in the senate: Kerry and himself. Kerry spoke of learning of the results of the 1968 NH primary while serving in Vietnam. Lamenting what he called today’s “desert of dialogue” in terms of political debate, Kerry pointed to the work he’d done with McCain in the 1990s on the POW/MIA committee to normalize relations with Vietnam as evidence that members of both parties are capable of working together. McCain mentioned how the U.S.S. John McCain – named for his father and grandfather – recently docked in Da Nang. “If you live long enough, anything is possible,” McCain said.

McCain couldn’t resist some straight talk, calling straw polls “a rip-off” and adding that Iowa’s straw poll was “the worst thing since ethanol.” The audience certainly got the reference.

Kerry joked that he’d only campaigned in New Hampshire one season, and that listening to McCain speak of his two tours here got “my juices flowing.” He praised the primary as a “proven process” that has served the nation “very effectively.”

On that point, there was not a bit of disagreement between the honorees or among the large, bi-partisan political crowd.

fergus@ferguscullen.com, September 16, 2011

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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