Congratulations! said the way-too-cheery voice on my phone message machine. You have the chance to have breakfast with Ted Cruz! Just call back, and reserve a place at the table with Ted for tomorrow morning in the Old Town Hall . . .
I didn’t call back and didn’t go. The Old Town Hall is not a diner, it holds hundreds of folks. It’s a set-up for a standard stump speech, which I’ve already heard.
I’m an Independent, and in NH that means you get all the phone calls. For a while, it’s nice to be included in the candidate polls, but with a trampling horde of Republican candidates out there, it’s been wearying of late. And I know a number of folks, stalwart citizens all, who have taken to making up stuff when they answer. They change their ethnicity, gender, and age on a daily basis, and also what candidate they intend to vote for.
Two weeks ago, dear friends from childhood came for dinner, on the night when Bill Clinton decided to come to the same Old Town Hall. The center of town was blocked off, and we had to talk my friends in through back roads. We still love to see the candidates in NH, but no longer are these meetings held in homes. Crowds and numbers count too much to allow gatherings as small as they used to be.
Every week, if not more often, I am begged to participate in making calls on behalf candidates. I’ve done that in other campaigns, and even once this winter, for Sanders (full disclosure, I am still seesawing between Sanders and Clinton, and probably will till primary day).
My phone experience is always the same: I make my way through pages and pages of phone numbers, and at least ninety percent go straight to voice mail, so I end up reaching fewer than ten folks in an hour’s dialing. Most of the six or eight folks I reach tell me they are voting for Trump. Or they tell me to get off the phone and never call again.
I am skeptical of the polls. But even more, I am skeptical of the myth of the all-important ground game, and its huge role in elections. They say there are studies that prove it. But no one I know allows their vote to be influenced by strangers on the phone. And no one I know likes strangers ringing the doorbell to twist your arm.
It used to be different, I know. When my grandfather, then in his seventies, went door to door for McCarthy, he was talking to people he knew. This was before cable and a hundred channels, before FOX News and CNN, before computers and ads on every site. And before cell phones replaced so many landlines.
For the vast majority of us, who are inundated with candidate ads, on the computer, our phones, TV, and in our mail, the desire to escape is a serious response to campaign ground machines. Debate viewing statistics have been high this year, higher than for a long time. Yet, the growing response category in the polls has been Not Voting.
This morning, driving past the Old Town Hall, I saw two young, well-dressed women, walking along happily, chatting together, and carrying signs that let me know they had come from the Cruz breakfast: one sign for Trump; one for Cruz. The dealmakers are at work. The truth behind the ads is not the same as the truth within the ads. And I wish I had thought to take a picture.
The game is afoot, as Sherlock says. But it is a changing game. I will vote. Always have, always will. Holding on to hope for what we Americans may become, I will vote. And no campaign ground game can take any credit for my voting, or for my choice.
1. Cruz Trucks Outside the Old Town Hall, Exeter NH. Just some of the caravan. Anonymous phone picture, one of several posted on Banjo Blog today, with an invitation to share.
2.Cruz poster advertising his swing through NH.
3. Freeze Frame of Bill Clinton in the same Old Town Hall, Exeter, on January 4, rousting out a crowd in support of his wife.
4. Ted Cruz speaking to a crowd at the Old Town Hall this morning, photo from the Banjo Blog, taken by someone on a phone.