The Plank

Why The Hate, Fred?

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I realize Fred isn't putting much stock in the early primary contests, but is it really such a good idea to aggressively give the finger to New Hampshire voters by skipping last night's debate in such a high-profile manner?

Months ago, New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen (great name, eh?) was sharing with me his displeasure at Fred's reported plans to run an above-the-snow campaign. Specifically, Cullen cited Bush's 2000 Granite State whoopin' as "a vivid example of the risks that a candidate faces if he tries to run a media-based campaign that doesn't do the heavy lifting":

"In October of 1999, there was major debate in New Hampshire up at Darmouth. Then Governor Bush declined to participate. That sent a clear signal to a lot people in New Hampshire that candidate Bush didn't think he had to do the same kinds of things the other candidates did. It really led to an unraveling of a lot of his support." And playing catch up after a bumpy start isn't as easy as you'd think, insists Cullen. "At some point, [a candidate's perceived disrespect] becomes the word around the campfire. When that happens, you're in deep trouble."

Unsurprisingly, Cullen was in the press this morning making less than flattering noises about Fred's brand new candidacy.

Now, there were plenty of reasons Bush got his clock cleaned in New Hampshire. And he did, after all, recover enough to win the nomination and the White House (heavy sigh). But clearly New Hampshire Republicans are sensitive to slights (as are voters in Iowa, where Team Thompson hasn't exactly been burning up the trail). So why antagonize them?

I'm wondering if maybe Fred is following a strategy similar to McCain's Iowa ploy in 2000, when, realizing early on that he couldn't win the state, McCain aggressively worked to lower expectations, repeatedly stressing that he had no on-the-ground organization and, for that matter, no interest in even seeking Iowa votes. Maybe Fred figures that if he can't win New Hampshire, he might as well go ahead and kill any expectation of his making a decent showing.

If so, it's a risky move. Yes, Fred's a celebrity. Yes, he's charming. But as everyone and their grandmother know by now, the rap on Fred is that he's lazy and can't be bothered to work for this nomination. At this point, every move he makes to confirm this stereotype is more ammunition for his already trigger-happy competitors.

--Michelle Cottle

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