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Union Leader: The top 10 primary moments of 2011 (so far)

December 24, 2011 J

By Fergus Cullen – December 24, 2011

With the caveat that this primary’s history-making moment may be ahead of us, here are 10 telling events from 2011.

1. Bachmann Fails History (March 12): “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord,” Michele Bachmann said more than once, with no sense of irony. The most avowed Tea Party candidate flubbed a basic fact about a seminal event of the American Revolution. Even among politicians, Bachmann has a talent for saying things that are demonstrably false in a completely convincing way. Although she rose to 18 percent in one New Hampshire poll in early July, her candidacy measures the limits of Tea Party appeal. At least she didn’t go to Berlin to demand they tear down a wall.

2. Barbour Bails (April 25): The list of might-have-runs can look especially appealing in hindsight. Haley Barbour hired consultants, made one campaign trip to New Hampshire in mid-April, and withdrew from the race 10 days later. Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, or Jeb Bush — any one of them alone might have doubled the quality of this field.

3. Campaigning by Limo (April 27): If the presidential campaign degenerated into a reality TV show, the pilot episode was Donald Trump’s helicopter and limo tour of the Portsmouth Traffic Circle to advance birther conspiracies. Can we all agree to ignore this attention addict in the future?

4. Cattle Call (April 29): Grumbling about the primary’s slow start ended when the Americans For Prosperity dinner finally kicked things off. It was the first time Mitt Romney shared a stage with his rivals.

5. Just a Coincidence (June 2): Two and a half years had passed since Sarah Palin’s last visit to New Hampshire. Then on the same afternoon Romney made his official announcement in Stratham, Palin stole the show by attending a clam bake a few miles away in Seabrook. Classy.

6. Pawlenty Whiffs, Huntsman Skips (June 13): The CNN/WMUR/Union Leader debate at Saint Anselm College caused lasting harm to two candidates. Tim Pawlenty’s reluctance to criticize Romney’s health insurance reform effort was the beginning of the end for the Minnesotan, who deserved a better fate. Jon Huntsman’s decision not to participate was symbolic of his reluctance to engage his opponents. Huntsman has since done more retail campaigning than anyone else, and if he is disappointed on primary day, some will say traditional town halls are passé in a cable TV era. Here’s an alternate theory: Not having a clear message matters. Huntsman may prove to be too much of a nuanced diplomat and not enough of a hard-nosed politician. Too bad.

7. The 999th Debate (Oct. 11): It’s hard to believe now that Herman Cain was ever humored as a serious candidate; call it the soft bigotry of low expectations. The Dartmouth debate was Cain’s high-water mark. A poll taken days later had him at 24 percent in the Granite State. By the time Cain abruptly canceled an interview with the Union Leader on Nov. 17, the fraud that was the Cain candidacy was rapidly getting exposed.

8. Perry Gets Giddy (Oct. 28): Rick Perry could finish dead last in New Hampshire if he doesn’t drop out first, but if his campaign is remembered for three things, one of them should be his “giddy” speech at the Cornerstone dinner. Video of Perry’s animated remarks — apparently affected by medication — went viral. Twelve days later, Perry produced an even more memorable moment destined for YouTube immortality. Oops.

9. Newt Endorsed (Nov. 27): Agree or disagree with the choice, the Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich framed the final chapter of the 2012 campaign, not just in New Hampshire but nationally as well.

10. The Tenth Moment (to be determined): The primary is like Tim Tebow: Pivotal action happens late, and it’s worth watching until the end. Ed Muskie held an emotional press conference outside the Union Leader on a Saturday 10 days before the 1972 primary. Ronald Reagan paid for a microphone in a Nashua debate three days before winning in 1980. Stay tuned — and not just to your television. Show up and see these folks in person. There may be fewer chances in the future.

Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at fergus@ferguscullen.com.

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