Washington Matters


Talking Politics With the Guys


Johnny Bad's Sports Bar and Grill on Elm Street in Manchester, N.H., is the kind of place where men with big bellies go to drink beer and talk about the Red Sox (Good riddance, Manny) or look ahead to the Patriots' Superbowl  prospects. It almost goes without saying that they were far from thrilled to have a stranger from Washington come in and try to steer the conversation to politics.

But they were polite enough to tolerate me (at least a little) when they found out I grew up in New England, lived for a while in New Hampshire (albeit in the 1970s) and as a kid wore a Carl Yastrzemski jersey constantly.

Still, it's only fair to say that politics was pretty far down on their list of priorities. Sports is a diversion from the daily worries about housing and jobs and gasoline prices -- and even more scary here, the cost of heating oil, which has gone up even higher than gasoline. There's considerable fear of what the New England winter will bring. Wood stoves are selling briskly and a cord of wood is over $300 -- and that's if you're lucky enough to find someone who doesn't already have more orders than he can fill next winter.

As for politics, they see this as a lull period. They were heavily involved in the primary back in January and will proudly tell you about the time they met and chatted with one of the candidates, mostly John McCain but a little with Barack Obama, too. But since the primary, they haven't paid much attention. Ask about the GOP ad linking Obama to Paris Hilton or the ins and out of who's flipping and flopping, and it's clear they don't know and don't care. They'll decide who to vote for in time, but it's not time yet. We who make our living following politics would be wise to keep that in mind and not pay too much attention to the daily ups and downs of the polls.

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What is clear is that they have a much better sense of McCain than Obama, and Obama will have to do something about that if he's going to get their vote. (McCain practically moved in for the primary and held over 30 town meetings -- and campaigned just as extensively four years earlier.) But McCain faces problems, too. The main one is what you might call GOP fatigue. Voters are unhappy about the economy and tired of the war, and they know that it's been the Republicans, for the most part, who have been in charge. Some think it's time to give the other guys a chance. Still, when asked whether they think it will make a difference, you're most likely to get a shrug. No wonder New Hampshire is still very much a toss-up state.

 




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