Retirement Security is the Theme of Non-GOP Contingent
If the official kick-off of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary Campaign is any indication, the quadrennial circus will be less exciting than those in recent memory.
While ticket-holders strolled to the Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College this evening for the first New Hampshire debate of the campaign season, a crowd of perhaps 150 people waved signs and chanted in the designated “campaign visibility area.” And a third of them were associated with Democratic and progressive activist groups.
MaryLou Beaver, who brought signs from her group, Every Child Matters, agreed with me that the turnout was a lot smaller than at the first St. Anselm debates four years ago.
Seven candidates are debating this evening: Mitt Romney, the current front-runner, plus Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum. Of the gang of seven, Santorum and Paul had the largest turnout of sign-wavers. Romney supporters were surprisingly scarce.
Gary Johnson, who was excluded from the debate by its media sponsors, had a few supporters with signs. Jon Huntsman, who has not yet formally declared his intent to run and chose to stay out of tonight’s show, had no visible presence.
Vermin Supreme, a perennial prankster candidate, showed up in the parking lot (that’s another term for “campaign visibility area”) dressed as Uncle Sam in place of his usual boot-hat.
Most members of the non-GOP contingent carried signs protesting Republican assaults on Medicare and Medicaid. Printed signs, reading “Hands off My Medicare” and “Hands Off My Medicaid,” came from Americans United for Change, a group tied closely to the Democratic Party and to Organizing for America, the Obama administration’s permanent “grassroots” campaign. Their most animated chant was “Obamacare Romneycare,” the point of which escapes me.
A smaller contingent with hand-made signs came from the Granite State Organizing Project’s “Strengthen Our Communities” campaign, also focused on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. After an hour in the penned in “free speech zone,” the ten activists ambled back to St. Anselm Drive, where they would be visible to motorists passing by or driving onto campus for the debate.
There, a Goffstown police officer told them they did not have permission to stand on a public sidewalk and would have to return to the “campaign visibility area.” Fortunately, campus security received a call from the Chief of Police affirming the right to assemble on public property before confrontation escalated beyond words.
Eileen Brady, one of the GSOP members, recalled going to work in a Manchester hospital in 1966, when Medicare went into effect. “Before then people just died,” she said. “Now, they can actually get medical care.”