Campaign mode
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., signs copies of his book, "The Audacity of Hope," at the Frank Jones Center in Portsmouth.
Photo by Don Clark

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is one of several politicians to visit New Hampshire as potential presidential candidates over the past several months.

He joins politicians such as Rudy Giuliani, Joseph Biden and George Pataki who have made swings through the state -- not officially announcing their candidacies -- but making their presence known in the highly charged political atmosphere of New Hampshire.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, attended the event in Manchester at which Obama spoke to nearly 1,500 people.

"Sen. Obama was almost an hour late, and people stood quietly, happily talking, in a state in which it's not infrequent for people to come to an event and if the candidate is late, they leave," Hassan said. "People were happy to see each other, happy to celebrate the change in the state and nationally, and they were willing to wait for a candidate who hasn't even declared himself yet."

His visit is a reminder that the New Hampshire primary is still an integral event in the presidential election cycle, Hassan said.

"The fact Obama is here in December of 2006 speaks to that," she said.

But she said his visit was not the presidential cycle's official kick off; rather, it is ongoing.

His status as a "rock star" politician is uncanny for a junior senator. He told the audience, Hassan said, that it's not as much about him as he is a symbol for the types of change people need.

Joe Pace, chairman of the Exeter Democrat Committee, did not attend Obama's events in New Hampshire; however, he recently finished reading his book, "The Audacity of Hope."

"It's a perpetual election cycle, it never stops," Pace said. "As soon as one campaign is over the other one has already started."

He said his impression of Obama is that of a mainstream Democrat who has ideas that may be considered centrist. Obama speaks of poverty and the perils facing the middle class, Pace said in regards to Obama's book.

But Pace agreed Obama's visit to New Hampshire represents yet another potential candidate campaigning in the state.

Pace said the Democratic's momentum from its victory in November could run into the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Two years is a long time from now, but frankly you're talking about being a year out from the New Hampshire primary, so it's not that far away," he said.

Pace said the 2008 presidential contest could be the most wide open election in a long time because no incumbent, no member of the incumbent's staff, nor a vice president is running for the presidency.

He said it's important that Democratic candidates not run too far left of the political mainstream just to appeal to the typically diehard primary voters.

"These guys have to learn the right lessons from 2006 and figure out some strategy to chart a moderate course through the primary that doesn't get them in trouble in the general election," Pace said.

Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, has his eyes on 2008 as a year Republicans regain majorities in the New Hampshire House and Senate and the U.S. Congress.

"I think by then people will get their eyes open as to what actually happened politically and realize the mistakes that were made," Quandt said. "Look during the general elections, no one talked of an income tax; now we are talking about it right now."

He agrees the campaign process in the state never really ends.

"I think any candidate in his right mind is going to treat New Hampshire like the first-in -the-nation primary," he said. "This is where they'll get their political water wings."