John Kasich's town halls are different than anyone else's in New Hampshire, and the first person who will tell you that is John Kasich. "White Stripes at a Republican town meeting!" he said, after taking the floor to "Seven Nation Army" Friday evening in Bedford, New Hampshire. "That has never happened before in American history." He likes to make a lot of jokes, sometimes even funny ones, and to direct non-sequiturs at unsuspecting audience members. (Before taking questions, he paused to reflect on a snowball fight he'd taken part in earlier in the day: "I tackled one of my friends!") When it ended, there was a confetti machine and a triple-layer cake for the attendees.
But there's a serious message underlying his irreverence: he's a results guy. Take a look at Ohio, and if you like what you see, you should vote Kasich on Tuesday. The problem arises when those voters look at Ohio and instead read about the town of Sebring, where elevated levels of lead were found in the drinking water and residents weren't notified for five months. (Read the Columbus Dispatch for a fuller accounting.) With Kasich in a fight for second place in New Hampshire, and the water crisis in Flint making national headlines, he's finding the issue impossible to avoid.
Midway through the event, Kasich took a question from a man who had read about the crisis in Sebring this morning. He wanted to know one thing: "I was wondering if you've had a chance yet to personally apologize?"
"Well first of all, our top administration, the [Ohio] EPA, went immediately to the village," Kasich said. "We had warned the village to tell everybody that there was a risk. We have sent tests out; we have had controllers in there working to make sure the chemicals are right, because the water coming in, sir, is clean. And so at the same time we have done that, we took the operator and we got rid of him. And the federal EPA came in and said he did more than was even federally required of him. So we worked on it all the time, we worked on it with the formulas, the chemicals, and we worked to make sure that at the end of the day people are gonna be okay."
"Have you apologized?" the man asked again. Kasich wanted to move on, but the next question was about lead, too. A middle-aged woman in the second row, more sympathetic to Kasich than the first man, raised the spectre of the "800-pound donkey in the room" (that would be Hillary Clinton).
Clinton had made clear at Thursday's debate that she would be campaigning on getting justice for Flint, this voter noted. And she "wasn't remotely nice" about it. "I understand sodium is being added back into the water and I understand that Sebring is a lot smaller than Flint. But she will, I am sure, bring it up. It's the Clinton machine. So my question to you is she will look at you and say, 'You hired Butler, he even went on television and said that he was a little slow in responding to the situation there.' How do you stand up to Hillary and debate?" (Craig Butler is the head of the Ohio EPA.)
Kasich pivoted. "Look, our guys acted immediately and that's how we handle every crisis," he said. Then he switched gears and talked about how many Democrats he won over in his 2014 re-election. But it's a question that's not likely to go away any time soon.
Hillary Clinton had some company at a rally for campaign volunteers in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday afternoon: four Democratic women who serve as US senators, and a fifth, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who wants to join them next January. As she makes her final push in a state whose first-in-the-nation primary she won eight years ago, Clinton is traveling with a group of prominent women politicians who are saying explicitly what she dances around—that electing the first woman president would be a big effing deal, and you should absolutely think about that when you go to the polls.
"This is the torch that must be passed on, that you'll be passing on when you're out there door-knocking—you know how important this historical moment is for us," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She told a story about a photo of her late mother with Clinton that she keeps on her desk, and related an anecdote about a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on the subject of paid maternity leave. "A male Republican across the table says, 'Well, I don't know why that'd be mandatory, I never had to use it,'" Klobuchar recalled. "Without missing a beat, Sen. Debbie Stabenow said, 'I bet your mother did!'" The audience ate it up.
Stabenow, from Michigan, used her five minutes to tear into the sexist standards female candidates are subjected to—something that flared up recently when the Washington Post's Bob Woodward (among other male pundits) suggested the former secretary of state shouted too much. Stabenow was blunt:
Anyone see the movie Sufragette, yeah? You need to see that if you haven't. We're almost at the 100th anniversary of the women's right to vote. But there's always a message we get about we're too this or too that. Wait your turn. You smile too much, you must not be serious. You don't smile enough, you must not be friendly! You talk too much and you're too serious and you know, I wouldn't want to have a beer with you—or I would want to have a beer with you but you can't run security for your country. Your hair! You know, that—Donald Trump's hair! What about that hair! Come on! So let me say this, and I say this particularly to the women. Guys, you can listen, but the women: Don't do this. Don't do this. This is the moment.
"When folks talk about a rev-o-lu-tion," she said, elongating the final word in a brief Bernie Sanders impression, "the rev-o-lu-tion is electing the first woman president of the United States! That's the revolution. And we're ready for the revolution."
The presence of Klobuchar, Stabenow, and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire had another effect: It reminded voters that, notwithstanding her claim to not be a member of the Democratic establishment, Clinton has the backing of almost all of Sanders' colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus. And they're not shy about explaining why.
Ted Cruz is hoping Rush Limbaugh can push him over the top in next Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary. Here's a spot that the senator from Texas is running on a Boston sports radio station, using the conservative yakker's words to brand Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who holds a slight edge in the race for second place, as a pro-amnesty hypocrite:
Rush Limbaugh: "If you're looking for the Republican candidate who is the most steadfastly opposed to liberalism, whose agenda is oriented toward stopping it and thwarting it and defeating it, it's Ted Cruz."
Narrator: "Rush is right. It's Ted Cruz who's led our fights in Washington. To secure our border. To stop taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants. And it was Cruz who stood up for us against the Washington establishment. When the Gang of Eight proposed amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, it was wrong. Ted Cruz fought them. But what about Marco Rubio? When Rubio ran for Senate, he made this pledge:
Marco Rubio: "I will never support it, never have and never will support any effort to grant blanket legalization amnesty."
Rush Limbaugh: "That's what he said. It's not what he did. It was Marco Rubio that was a member of the Gang of Eight, and Ted Cruz that wasn't."
Narrator: Ted Cruz, the only one we can trust."
The ad is not an endorsement from Limbaugh, who made the comments on his radio show. Limbaugh isn't quite the voice of God, but in a tight Republican primary, he might be the next best thing. Cruz is talking about immigration every chance he can get in the Granite State—even when he's supposed to be talking about heroin—as he tries to catch up to Donald Trump and keep his rival from Florida at bay.
New Hampshire's status as the first primary state in the nation has had one clear policy consequence in 2016: It has turned a New England heroin epidemic into a national political conversation. And so, with five days to go until votes are cast, Ted Cruz took a break from his hectic town hall circuit to speak at a church here in Hooksett, New Hampshire, about his family's history of addiction.
As the headliner of the Addiction Policy Forum, hosted by a Baptist church and a half-dozen recovery organizations, Cruz told two personal stories he's offered before. The first was about his half sister, Miriam, who died of a drug overdose in 2011. Cruz recalled driving from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, where he and his father picked up Miriam from the crack house where she was living and, over the course of five hours at Denny's, tried desperately to help her piece her life back together. After his sister's death, Cruz took a $20,000 loan to pay for his nephew, Miriam's son, to go to boarding school. It's a difficult story, and he tells it well. Then he talked about his father, Rafael, who left Ted and his mother behind in Calgary when the future senator was three years old, only to find Christ in Texas and return to the family. When he was finished, the mostly partisan crowd offered a chorus of "amen!"; it's a story about his father's faith that in actuality is a story of his own.
And if that's how his speech had ended, it would have been in line with the way a number of candidates have talked about drug addiction in New Hampshire during the 2016 campaign—heartbreak at the human toll (New Hampshire averaged more than a death a day from overdoses in 2015), and a promise to act. But what Cruz really seemed to want to talk about was something else—the flood of "undocumented Democrats" coming across the border, and the urgent need for a magnificent wall to stop them. Take care of the illegal immigration, his argument goes, and you'll take care of your drug problem.
"I would invite you to do as I have, to meet with farmers and ranchers [in Texas] who will show you photographs of dead body after dead body after dead body, of women and children abandoned and left to die in the desert," he said. "Local farmers for whom it has become sadly a recurring experience to just encounter dead bodies of people being trafficked in, abused and abandoned by the coyotes and left to die. And it is the very same cartels that are trafficking in human beings, that are physically abusing these human beings, that are sexually abusing these human beings, that are selling God's creatures into sexual slavery. It is these very same cartels that are the drug cartels, that are bringing heroin."
He had a specific cartel in mind:
El Chapo. You know, Sean Penn seems to think he is a sexy and attractive character. I so appreciate Hollywood for glorifying vicious homicidal killers. What a cute and chic thing to celebrate. Someone who murders and destroys lives for a living. El Chapo's organization brings vast quantities of drugs into this country, vast quantities of heroin. Heroin confiscation at the border have increased from about 556 kilos in 2008 to 2,100 kilos in 2012. When the border's not secure, that’s what happens: You have drugs flooding into this country. And you have people in New Hampshire and elsewhere, they sometimes start with prescription painkillers, but those become harder and harder to get and they turn to heroin. if we want to turn around the drug crisis, we have got to finally and permanently secure the border. Now I tell you, we know how to do this. We're told by the media over and over again, this problem can't be solved. You can't secure the border. How many times have you heard a reporter say, 'If you build a 10-foot wall, they'll build an 11-foot ladder.' Reporters think they're very clever. Well, if you want to know how walls work, I invite you all to come to Israel.
From there, Cruz introduced the audience to another villain, what he often refers to on the stump as the "Washington cartel." "Solving the drug problem becomes de-emphasized because [Republicans'] policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration," Cruz said. "On the Democratic side, you know there's a new term for illegal immigrants. It's called 'undocumented Democrats.'" He wandered even further into his stump speech, connecting the dots from the heroin crisis to the lack of a decent fence on the border, to the stagnation of Americans' wages and the dissatisfaction of the American middle class with Washington politicians. If you showed up late, you might have been surprised to hear that the event was about drug abuse in New Hampshire.
Heroin has become a serious issue in the 2016 presidential race in part because talking about the epidemic is also a way to talk about something else—to show you're attentive to what's happening at the local level, to show you have empathy. For Cruz, riding high off the momentum of his big victory in Iowa, it's a way to show that he can be just as Donald Trump as Donald Trump—but with a conscience.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to think of himself as a guy who tells voters what he believes, and as he makes a last-gasp attempt to climb out of sixth place in the New Hampshire Republican primary, what he's telling people is this: He really can't believe he's losing to these idiots.
Speaking at a retirement community in Bow, New Hampshire, on Wednesday afternoon, Christie used an anecdote about the late actor James Gandolfini to rip into front-runner Donald Trump as a highly skilled magician deceiving the electorate with smoke and mirrors.
As he told the seniors, when he was a US attorney from New Jersey, Christie had gone with his daughter to a Broadway performance of Beauty and the Beast. Gandolfini, whose daughter on the show, Jamie-Lynn Discala, played the role of Belle, saw Christie in the line for refreshments and tapped him on the shoulder. "He said, 'Um, I'm Jimmy Gandolfini,' Christie recalled. "I said, 'I know.' And he said to me—he's a big guy, he had a very strong firm handshake, as you might imagine, and he wasn't letting go of my hand, so he's shaking and he pulled me towards him—and he says, 'You know it's all make-believe, right?'"
Christie paused for a moment, and then got to his point. "You know it's all make-believe, right?," he said, getting into it. "The guy who's running first in the polls right now—you know it's all make believe. You know that there's not really a board room he and Ivanka sit in, right? You know that when he says you're fired you're not really fired, right? Because it's not real! It is an all an act! It is all for TV!"
Trump, who leads in the polls by double digits, has perhaps overshadowed the notoriously blustery Christie by being even more blustery. But Christie wasn't simply trying to take Trump down a few notches; he also wanted to bring down Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the first- and third-place finishers in Iowa who are both now lapping him in the state where he's invested most of his energy. In the second truck-driving metaphor of his speech, he took aim at the two freshmen senators who don't know how to drive in the mud:
New is great—it's shiny and pretty. It looks great. I understand that. New is really good. Even on a day like today, right, you went and passed the car dealer and saw a new pickup truck, and you said, "Look at that pickup truck! It looks good." So you go and you buy the new truck and you park that truck right in front of your house. Let's say this rain keeps going, I don’t know what the forecast is, but if it keeps raining for a while you know what happens, rain turns everything into mud. And let's say you go outside to get your new car after a day or so in the rain. You get in that new truck the first time and start it up. You put it in gear and it's in the mud and the wheels start spinning. And you're thinking, why can't I get out of the mud? I gotta get out of the mud. You keep doing it, you're going back and forth, the wheels are spinning, and you're starting to get frustrated, and what's the only thing that's running through your mind? Where the heck is my old truck! My old truck always got me out of the mud. I never got stuck in the mud with my old truck. My old truck's banged up a little bit. It's scratched up a little bit. It doesn't smell nearly as good as it used to. It doesn't look as good as it used to, but I can't go anywhere in this new truck because it can't get out of the mud.
There's two different kinds of trucks in this race, man. The Marco Rubio–Ted Cruz truck is the new, shiny, smells-nice truck. And then there's the Chris Christie truck. It’s old. It's beat up. It's dinged up. It doesn't smell as good as it used to. But man, the Chris Christie truck knows how to get out of the mud. You know why? Because it's been in the mud before.
Chris Christie is a smelly old truck, and he wants your vote, New Hampshire. Except, that is, when he's a helicopter.