Election 2004: Harvard GOP Cracks the Granite State

MERRIMACK, N.H.—Jeffrey P. Clemens ’06, armed with a bundle of pro-Bush pamphlets, bounds toward the first address on his canvassing route Saturday morning. But halfway to the doorstep, he notices the “Be Patriotic! Vote Bush Out!” bumper sticker on the minivan in the driveway.

Clemens retreats.

Republicans from Boston-area colleges descended on this suburban town of 27,000 over the weekend, aiming to keep the Granite State colored blue.

But rather than seeking to sway the minds of pro-Kerry voters, canvassers this weekend bypassed the homes of registered Democrats, focusing instead on the Grand Old Party’s faithful base.

“Yesterday, we switched over to a pure get-out-the-vote effort,” says Jamie Burnett, a operative for President Bush’s re-election campaign, during a pep talk Saturday to 20 Harvard Republican Club members aboard a yellow school bus in a strip-mall parking lot.

Bush carried New Hampshire by just 7,200 votes four years ago, and this election is shaping up to be just as tight.

The cities of New Hampshire’s southern I-93 corridor—just an hour’s commute from the Hub—are luring hordes of ex-Massachusetts residents attracted by the Granite State’s zero percent income tax rate and low housing prices. The demographic shift could threaten the Republican Party’s longtime record of dominance in New Hampshire.

Burnett said Merrimack remains “hard core Republican.” But turnout in this town was unusually low last election, and the GOP needs to galvanize its base here to offset the Democratic advantage in nearby Nashua.

So campaign workers hit the quiet roads and cul-de-sacs of Merrimack Saturday, hoping to make sure that pro-Bush voters would have a ride to the polls next week.

“Most people know the score. They’ve decided whether Bush deserves reelection, and their minds aren’t going to change,” says Zachary B. Singer ‘06, treasurer of the Harvard Republican Club.

Singer, an economics concentrator in Elliot House, asks rhetorically, “what’s more effective: talking to someone for 30 minutes or knocking on 10 more doors?”

KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO’S THERE?

The Republican club canvassers are shuttled from block to block in the grey Chevy Lumina of Olga Fernandez, who first hit the campaign trail in 1992 to help George W.’s father fend off a primary challenge from conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

Fernandez is a hairdresser who likes to give her customers an earful of her staunchly conservative political views. Given that she works in liberal-leaning Nashua, Fernandez says, “I’m surprised that I still have clients.”

Fernandez left Cuba when she was eight years old in 1962, and her entire family—including her two grown daughters—are steadfast supporters of the GOP.