Sen. Barry Goldwater has shown himself a bad tactician in the New Hampshire presidential primary. Now the contest is less than a month away, and although the unprecedented proliferation of candidates has made it so complex that prediction is very risky, a few things seem clear. One is that Barry Goldwater--blundering and outmaneuvered--is running badly behind.
Goldwater's biggest headache in the Granite State is not Rockefeller, Lodge, Stassen, or writeins for Nixon and Scranton. What hurts is the seemingly frivolous candidacy of an ambitious lady senator with whom he has been playing footsie for months, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine.
Senator Smith announced for the Presidency late. She began her campaign only three days ago, shaking hands in 29-below weather in the northernmost counties of the state. She doesn't even like to talk politics: the 66-year-old Senator prefers to chatter about pie and the weather with the voters she runs across. But with every hands she shakes, deep in what Rockefeiler has conceded to be heavily Goldwater territory, where she has been campaigning, Senator Smith chips away at the Arizonian's margin.
The lady has adopted the most ancient professional politician's technique of occupying the middle ground, this time the wide-open space between Rockefeller and Goldwater. In towns where Goldwater bluntly advocated air cover for the Bay of Pigs invasion, Mrs. Smith announces she would have provided cover or not attempted the Cuban landing at all. Where Goldwater proposed every conceivably frightful means to get the missiles out of Cuba, Senator Smith more mildly suggests she would "never have lifted the blockade quarantine until on-sight inspection had been allowed."
When Goldwater asked President Johnson last week to "tell Castro to walk back and turn the [Guantanamo's] water on or we are going to march out with a detachment of marines and turn it on," Senator Smith decided that silence was pretty golden.
But foreign policy issues such as these are probably largely symbolic to New Hampshire voters: they serve as guide-posts to how the candidates are spread across the political spectrum. On the more important domestic issues, the Down Easter holds even stronger ground. She had never opposed social security, which is likely to hurt Barry in the cities. On the other side, she cannot remotely be associated with the "me-too" Democratic policies of which Goldwater has accused Rockefeller.
The biggest wedge Senator Smith has in the primary is purely strategic. Goldwater cannot attack her with anti-Rockefeller vehemence, since she stands so close to his own camp. Furthermore he has been fending off Rockefeller's challenges throughout the campaign by concentrating largely on President Johnson. Suddenly altering tactics simply to strike out at Margaret Chase Smith would seem both vindictive and unchivalrous. Rockefeller, on the other hands, has not attacked Senator Smith since it is Goldwater votes she is taking.
This, then, is precisely the bind which seems likely to strangle the Arizona Senator's Presidential hopes. Already he has begun to suggest that the New Hampshire contest isn't very important, and that the primary which counts will be California's. But Goldwater needs victories everywhere to get the nomination, and a loss in New Hampshire is unlikely to help him on the Coast. He had to have the moralistic anti-Rockefeller votes as well as those of his own ultra-conservatives to win on March 10. And plucky Senator Smith looks every inch as virtuous as Goldwater facing a divorced man and she has avoided the handicap of Barry's political extremism. Voters seeking to avoid a distasteful choice between the Governor's "sin and the Arizonan's Armageddon may leap for Senator Smith's open arms.
But Senator Smith's candidacy and Goldwater's resultant misfortune were, it would seems, avoidable. First, he didn't have to play into Senator Smith's hands by bellowing his most distasteful positions up and down New Hampshire. This tactic gave Margaret Chase Smith a chance not only for the moralist vote, but also for the ballots of the less belligerently conservative. The unexpected sincerity of Goldwater's announcement that the Republicans "couldn't get old Barry to change his sopts" may, in fact, have prompted Mrs. Smith's belated candidacy. Had Barry been more soft-spoken--and he certainly could have been-Mrs. Smith would not have much ground to stand on.
Another factor working actively against Goldwater is that he has turned out to be a moody and mediocre campaigner. He has shown little sense of timing in presenting political issues, little feeling for what crowds are important, and a mercurial humor that varies from day to day. As one commentator put it, "Mr. Goldwater does not succeed as well as most candidates in conveying complete delight in being with every crowd."
Rockefeller, in contrast is a superb campaigner who has met the issue of his divorce with more finesse and dignity than most politicians could muster. It is still his crippling disadvantage, widely regarded as having cost him the nomination. Senator Smith's candidacy, however, seems to give him an outside chance. If her share of the total vote pulls Goldwater's slice well below Rockefeller's, giving the Governor a significant upset in New Hampshire, he could conceivably roll on to subsequent victories in Oregon and California.
The mystery in New Hampshire's race is precisely what Margaret Chase Smith hopes to gain by her candidacy. The answer is by no means easy. Obviously, she is gunning for the vice-presidential nomination, but equally obviously she cannot get it if any of the Eastern industrial candidates are nominated for the Presidency. Ideologically she would be totally at odds with any of them. Furthermore, she would be of little political value since what they need against President Johnson is support in the South.
The only candidate who could give her a chance for the vice-presidential slot, if such a candidate exists, is Barry Goldwater. He might want a conservative Northerner under him if, at the convention, the rural and Western Republicans win a chance for a conservative test at the polls. Mrs. Smith needed, she knew, a big primary success to get within shooting distance of even that. Paradoxically, she may be blasting her only Presidential hopeful out of the sky in a determined bid to win a place on his ticket.