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MortonNational corresondent Bruce Morton has covered three decades of national election campaigns.

Bruce Morton: Politics boring? Not in New Hampshire

By Bruce Morton/CNN

January 29, 2000
Web posted at: 6:16 p.m. EST (2316 GMT)

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) - Politics boring? The New Hampshire primary boring? You've got to be kidding. They do high drama here.

First one I came to was in 1972. Memorable moments? Lots. Maria Carrier, who was a leader in Democratic frontrunner Edmund Muskie's campaign here, told the Boston Globe he needed to get 50 percent, a statement she immediately regretted. But the Globe ran it and she was stuck with it.

Then there was the rubber rat. Huge field in '72, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, in an odd-looking truck called the Yortymobile; he got 6%. Wilbur Mills, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who later got tangled up with an Argentinian strip tease dancer, Annabella Battastella, aka Fannie Fox. But along with all the pols was an anti-poverty worker from Hartford named Ned Coll, who in the middle of a televised debate suddenly pulled out a rubber rat, which he waved at flinching fellow candidates while denouncing poverty. The rat was the problem, he yelled.

And then of course the moment when Muskie, tired at the end of a hard week, climbed up on a flatbed truck outside the Manchester Union-Leader, then more conservative and much more tabloid then it is now, to denounce publisher William Loeb's front-page attack on Muskie's wife Jane. It was snowing, and we argued later about verbs. Did he cry? His face was wet with snow, hard to tell. He certainly broke down, or choked; we agreed on those. What effect did it have on his campaign? "I was for him," a Pittsburgh cab driver told me a few weeks later, "until he sat down in the snow and cried." He didn't sit, of course, and it didn't matter, of course. George McGovern would be the nominee.

1980? George Bush -- the Texas governor's father -- had won the Iowa caucuses, and was scampering about chortling that Big Mo -- for momentum -- was on his side. The Reagan campaign proposed a two-man debate -- never mind all the other candidates involved -- Bob Dole, John Connally, and so on -- which Reagan would pay for and the Nashua newspaper would sponsor. It started, when the other candidates came trooping in, like so many little kids not invited to the birthday party, and asked, "Can't we play too?"

Reagan started to talk to them, and the newspaper moderator ordered the sound man to kill Reagan's microphone. "Mr. Green," Reagan thundered, "I paid for that microphone!" Vintage Gipper -- he got the man's name wrong (it was Breen) just as he often did, and the line was originally Spencer Tracy's, in a movie called "State of the Union." Never mind; if an actor can't remember good lines, who can? And of course the nomination was his.

1988: George Bush and Bob Dole again, with Dole's furious aside about Bush at the end of a TV interview, "Tell him to stop lying about my record," probably sealed his fate here, though New Hampshire has never liked Dole. Just four years ago it listened to Pat Buchanan, "Don't wait for orders from headquarters. Just mount up and ride to the sound of the guns." New Hampshire did; if Dole had finished third instead of second, he'd have quit.

1992? Remember Bill Clinton. Despite a letter in which he acknowledged plotting to avoid the draft, despite Gennifer Flowers and a television interview about a troubled marriage, he came in second to next-door neighbor Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, proclaimed himself the Comeback Kid, and announced he'd be there for New Hampshire "until the last dog dies."

Boring? You don't get lines that good on prime time TV. Morris Udall, who lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, told for years the story of coming up to a couple of New Hampshirites and saying."Hi, I'm Mo Udall and I'm running for president." "We know, congressman," Udall quoted the answer, "We were just laughing about that this morning."

I will concede, if pressed, that it hasn't been that gorgeous this time. But hey, Gary Bauer popping up at a Bradley event to accuse Al Gore of changing his stand on abortion isn't bad. And we've still got a day or two left. You never know.

ELECTION 2000

Poll: Presidential campaign overshadows Clinton (1-26-00)

Video of New Hampshire debates (1-26-00)

Gore, Bradley spar over negative ads, health care in Manchester debate (1-26-00)

Hatch abandons presidential bid (1-26-00)

Gentility fades away as GOP candidates face one another (1-26-00)

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VIDEO

CNN's Bruce Morton gives us his last word on the nation's first presidential primary and its impact on the fall election. (January 30)
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