New Hampshire 101 for Fred Thompson

Candidate Needs to Open Up More to Win Granite Staters

By Published on .

Most Popular
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AdAge.com) -- The candidates are coming. The candidates are coming. Actually two -- former Sen. Fred Thompson and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- were in the state on Monday and someone may need to send Sen. Thompson back to school for a crash course in New Hampshire politics 101.

Lesson No. 1: Show up

While political marketing's focus is usually about the message and issues, Sen. Thompson, who started his campaign late, has raised local ire and some doubts because of relatively few state visits, according to talks with both residents and local officials. Monday's was only his third or fourth trip.

That's a big no-no here in a state where voters traditionally regard their ability to meet with the candidates personally as a sacred rite that is a big part of their first-in-the-nation primary duties. The other duty is a responsibility to attend events and ask the candidates questions during town meetings, home coffees and other events.

And that brings up the second lesson. Answer questions.

During a stop here with just three public events, one a gun factory tour, Mr. Thompson gave speeches where it was clear he drew some support. But he answered just four questions from the voters at public events. That's not four questions at an event. That's a total of four questions all day long, all them answered at the the New Hampshire Political Library's Politics and Eggs breakfast. He did some press interviews. One tea with prospective supporters wasn't public, and he may have answered individual factory workers' questions on the tour.

That contrasts with Giuliani, who spent half an hour answering questions from the public in one event and then took reporters questions in mini news conferences three different times. It also contrasts events for most other candidates in the state. Former Sen. John Edwards alone has two town halls today and is expected to spend much of the time answering voters' questions.

Asked about it late yesterday, Sen. Thompson turned defensive.

"I answered tough questions. We opened it up. We spent over an hour there talking to people, answering questions," he said in describing the breakfast where he answered questions. He also said that other days may have more questioning.

Perhaps, but Scott Spradling, political editor of WMUR-TV, said the Thompson campaign is the only one that has declined to participate in two station series featuring candidates answering voters questions. One hour long "Conversation With" series featuring each of the candidates already aired. Another "Candidate Café" series is slated to air in December.

That there is still opportunity for Mr. Thompson here is obvious after he attended an event in Dover. People do want to see him. People liked what he says about immigrations, about restoring the government's credibility and about increasing the efficiency of government agencies whose computers don't talk to each other.

"I'm going to vote for him," said Ann Burk, of Hampton, a retired teacher, pointing to the senator's promise during a speech to restore the federal government's credibility. "I believe in what he is saying."