Vote 2008: Ben Bradley's Blog

January 9, 2008 8:09:45 AM PST
Reporter Ben Bradley is on the campaign trail. Ben is writing this blog as he follows the candidates to Iowa, and then New Hampshire. Ben and political reporter Andy Shaw will also be filing regular reports on ABC7 News.

January 9, 2008 5:53am

(MANCHESTER, NH) "Never count a Clinton out." I said that on the air a couple of days ago even as New Hampshire residents - and reporters - seemed to be increasingly intoxicated by Barack Obama's big crowds and upbeat message.

What happened? There are many explanations: Senior women turned out en masse for Senator Clinton. Obama's much ballyhooed connection with young voters didn't translate into a higher percentage of them actually voting. Many independents voted for Senator John McCain.

Several Obama supporters told us late last night their friends gave a sympathy vote of sorts to Mrs. Clinton -- believing an Obama win was already in the bag. Or perhaps it was seeing the former First Lady near tears Monday when talking to an undecided voter in Portsmouth, NH. It showed she was real. It showed she's human. It showed a softer side of Hillary.

She acknowledged as much last night when she told stunned supporters: "I want to especially thank New Hampshire voters," Clinton said. "Over the last week I listened to you and, in the process, I found my own voice."

Personally, I believe Senator Obama's "above the fray," incumbent-style campaign may have hurt him here. Obama rarely took questions from New Hampshire voters. While he gives a stirring speech, here in New Hampshire voters are accustomed to - and prefer - more back-and-forth with the men and women they're considering as candidates.

I'll leave it to people far smarter than me to dissect the reasons for the upset. What I can tell you with certainty is it was an absolute privelage to cover the Caucuses in Iowa and Primary in New Hampshire. It was rejuvenating to visit a Caucus site in Clive, Iowa where so many people took their responsibility so seriously there was barely room to stand. It was a reminder of the sacrifices so many make to sit in Frank and Deborah Grenard's kitchen outside of Des Moines and hear them talk about how their two sons' service in Iraq influenced their vote.

It was fascinating to visit a town hall in Peterborough, New Hampshire when the confidence of John McCain's supporters began to build. And, as always, it is wonderful to work with Andy Shaw, producer Christine Tressel and photographers Tom Garrity, Jim Mastri, Mike Locashio, Derrick Robinson and Rich Hillengas along with all of the talented people back at ABC 7 who work hard to make our product better than the rest.

So long from the ABC News bureau in Manchester, last one out turn off the lights. People of New Hampshire: We'll see you again in four years!

January 8, 2008 1:34pm


ABC 7 Producer Christine Tressel and photographer Rich Hillengas took a drive to Hancock, NH this morning to visit with a couple that used to call Chicago home. Andy Shaw stops by their beautiful rural community every four years to catch-up with this couple and get their views on the races. This year, the headline out of Hancock is unbelievably high turn-out. Our team saw cars parked on the side of the road and people lined-up to vote.

ABC reporting teams are seeing the same thing all over the state. Here's an update we just received: New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan told ABC News that turnout among primary voters today is "absolutely huge" -- and there are concerns about running out of ballots in towns like Portsmouth, Keene, Hudson and Pelham.

"Turnout is absolutely huge and towns are starting to get concerned that they may not have enough ballots," Scanlan said. "We are working on those issues. Everything else seems to be going smoothly." Scanlan said that the Secretary of State's office is sending additional ballots to Portsmouth and Keene (traditionally Democratic strongholds), Hudson (Republican leaning with significant numbers of independents) and Pelham (large number of independents).

January 8, 2008 11:55am

(MANCHESTER, NH) A crowd gathered. Grown women giggled. People pulled out their cell phone cameras. The media pushed forward. Who was it? Barack Obama?? Hillary Clinton???

Nope. It was James Denton, the guy who plays Mike the plumber on Desperate Housewives. He smiled his way through Iowa and is now here in New Hampshire campaigning for Democrat John Edwards. Denton is wearing a tight fitting "Steelworkers for Edwards" blue t-shirt and wearing Wrangler jeans (I'm embarrassed that I looked) and is happily stopping for photos from the excited crowd that formed around him. When a radio producer walked Denton through the massive ABC news operation here in Manchester, even Charlie Gibson's producers looked-up from their computers -- and a few of the ladies smiled. I'm not sure Denton and Edwards should campaign together ? I fear the candidate would be lost in the shuffle.

January 8, 2008 9:30am

(MANCHESTER, NH) John Edwards campaigned for 36 hours with barely a break in the final days of the New Hampshire Primary. Nonetheless Edwards flashed his outgoing grin and didn't look too exhausted when photographer Derrick Robinson and I caught-up with him at 5:50 this morning. "How do you need to finish here," I asked Edwards. "What I need to do is be strong, continue to talk about the middle class and change," Edwards told me. ""I'm in this for the long haul." We briefly talked about the physical endurance it takes to campaign for office. "It's grueling," Edwards said. "It's grueling not just for me but for anyone running for president."

January 7, 2008 3:00pm

Republican Fred Thompson has left the state. Polling in the single digits in New Hampshire, Thompson decided to get a head start in South Carolina.

January 7, 2008 1:30pm

(MANCHESTER, NH) A committed and caring candidate or calculated crocodile tears? That's the question ricocheting through campaign press corps this afternoon after Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared to get choked-up as she talked to undecided voters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire this morning.

Let's begin by acknowledging journalists - especially political reporters -are a cynical lot. Any major personality change on the part of a candidate in the final hours before an election is bound to be called into question. Here's the background: Senator Clinton has been hearing the voters' concerns that she is too divisive. Almost every Clinton supporter we've talked with - from Iowa to New Hampshire - has raised concerns that Mrs. Clinton may be too cold and calculating to win the general election. She definitely showed a softer side this morning. Was it a moment of genuine introspection or a made for TV moment meant to move the needle one day before New Hampshire residents cast their vote? You be the judge. Watch the video from the campaign stop.

January 7, 2008 (8:10am)

(MANCHESTER, NH): The polls are increasingly positive for Barack Obama and that has him worried.

During an early morning campaign stop in Claremont, New Hampshire today Obama told supporters complacency could still cripple the campaign. "Do not take this race for granted," Obama said. "I know we had a nice boost in the last couple of days but elections are funny things. You actually have to wait until people have voted and counted the votes before you know what's happening."

Obama's hoarse voice is getting worse. He told the crowd he consulted with a doctor yesterday about possible remedies? he said the doctor told him to "shut-up." That's not going to happen. Obama did have the vocal strength to call Hillary Clinton's campaign "depressing" during an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer aboard the campaign bus yesterday. This morning, Senator Clinton responded telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "I think that the -- that is the kind of characterization that is, you know, made by candidates who are trying to avoid scrutiny of their own records." Clinton said. "Let's talk about somebody else, instead of answering questions about, you know, what I have or haven't done."

Senator John Edwards is struggling to pick-up last minute votes to make his likely third place finish here tomorrow appear more respectable. Edwards campaigned all night long, making stops at diners and chatting-up anyone who was awake and willing to talk politics. At 6:30 this morning Edwards and his wife Elizabeth stepped into a place called "Daddy Pops Diner."

On the Republican side, John McCain has the most stops scheduled today. He'll crisscross the state and visit with voters at eight different locations. Mitt Romney will stop at seven spots including the place where Timberland shoes and clothing is made. Bill Richardson is going to a Dunkin Donuts (among other places). Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will bring his pal Chuck Norris along as the two dine on a "Huck-a-burger" at a local eatery. No word on the condiments.

January 6, 2008 (9:20pm)

(DIXVILLE NOTCH, NH) Ask a resident of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire who they're voting for in Tuesday's primary and the conversation quickly gets quiet. "Shall we say it's a North Country reticence," David Cleary told me when I asked why people don't like to talk about who they support. "Hey, it's my vote. It's a 'keep it to ourselves' kind of thing."

There's another reason for the shyness among the residents of this tiny town situated 30 miles from the Canadian border. Imagine if the super-duper exclusive ABC 7 News Straw Poll of Likely Dixville Notch voters got out and influence the outcome of a time-honored tradition. I'm sure you've seen this town on television before. The folks here hold the distinction of being the first in the nation to cast ballots in the presidential primary. At 12:01am on Tuesday the polls ? or more correctly the poll (singular) -- will open. It'll close about 15 minutes later after all 16 eligible voters have filled out a ballot.

Town Clerk Rick Erwin wouldn't tell me who he's voting for? although he did reveal his town appears to be taking a more liberal tilt after decades as a Republican strong-hold. Dixville Notch resident Michelle Johnson told me she's eager to support Barack Obama. "I love him," Johnson told me. "I like his character." We ran into a pastry chef who used to live in Skokie and work at the Sofitel hotel near O'Hare? Kader Tenkkit now works at the beautiful Balsams Resort in town. He's voting for a Republican but says he hasn't decided which one.

More than 40% of New Hampshire voters say they'll keep an open mind going into Tuesday's primary. The residents of Dixville Notch are no different. You can see our full report tonight on ABC 7 News at 10pm.

PS -- If anyone ever tells you it'll only take two hours to drive from Manchester to Dixville Notch, don't believe them.

January 6, 2008 (9:32am)


"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me!"

Okay, that's a quote from Saturday Night Live character Stewart Smalley during his old "Daily Affirmations" skit-- but that's immediately what jumped to mind last night during the ABC News Democratic Debate. A local reporter asked Clinton why she thinks so many people seems to "like Barack Obama more than you?" Clinton laughed, said sarcastically "that hurts my feelings," and then showed a bit of the humanity voters who want to support her so desperately crave.

In television we call it the "it factor." They are the intangible qualities that can't be faked and cause viewers to feel a connection with one particular anchor over another. I've always believed that "it" is the one thing that can't be faked. Over time, viewers usually get a good sense of whether the local news person really is as nice as the million dollar smile they flash. I think the same is true here on the campaign trail.

"Likeability" is the one thing no amount of political strategizing or spin can truly change. It is also the one thing we've heard time and time again from voters - stretching from Iowa to New Hampshire - that influences their decision. In Iowa, we introduced you to a Deborah Grenard, a 55 year-old nurse who said she really wanted to vote for Hillary? but in the end went with Senator Barack Obama because of this very issue.

On Saturday, Hillary Clinton went out of her way to instruct her daughter to find a chair at a rally for a woman who was holding an infant. The exchange garnered her some positive coverage. But will it change any votes?

Tonight at 10pm? a report from the small New Hampshire hamlet whose two dozen voting residents will be the first in the nation to mark their primary ballots. See you then!

January 5, 2008 3:48pm

(PETERBOROUGH, NH) "Two Irish guys walk into a bar?"

That's how John McCain began his talk to roughly 500 people at the Peterborough Town Hall here in New Hampshire. More than 100 others stood outside, unable to get in because the local fire chief ordered the doors closed. The candidate is relaxed and energized by what his teams says is surging popularity here in the Granite State after Mitt Romney's second-place finish in Iowa.

McCain is among the few politicians I've covered who takes questions from voters and - without hesitation - doesn't shy away from telling them he disagrees with their views or isn't familiar with a topic he's asked about. It's a quality that will likely serve him well among New Hampshire's hard-nosed voters.

On the national stage, however, McCain's shoot-from-the-hip style has landed him in trouble in the past. The cable news channels can - and have -- repeated video of McCain laughing as a voter uses the "B-word" to describe the female democratic presidential candidate. What makes McCain endearing and engaging in person (such as telling a funny Irish bar joke to a crowd of supporters) can make him look a bit off his rocker on national television.

Photographer Derrick Robinson and I ducked into the quintessential New England tavern to chat with a few "real people" about their thoughts on the candidates and encountered people who take their voting responsibility seriously. A few of McCain's campaign workers also stopped-by including legendary Republican operative Lanny Wiles. Over beers, Wiles and the young volunteers traded barbs ("Lanny, didn't you run Taft's campaign??"). Everyone is clearly excited that things are looking up for the McCain camp after many rough months. "Mac is back!" is their refrain of choice.

However, a new poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters shows Romney is the choice of 30% compared to McCain's 26%/ Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani each have 11% support. It's worth noting, though, 40% of Republican voters say they are open to changing their mind in the final few days before Tuesday's primary. The 7News/ Suffolk University tracking poll has a margin of error of +-4%.

Tonight at 10pm? a recap of the crucial Democratic and Republican Debate. Plus Andy Shaw with another one-on-one interview with Barack Obama. Illinois' junior senator reacts to his win in Iowa by reminding us it was just one vote in one state. I'll be reporting on John McCain's rally plus Mike Huckabee's struggle to translate his win in Iowa to a respectable showing here in New Hampshire.

January 4, 2008 3:50pm

(O'Hare International Airport) - We're back in Chicago, but only for an hour-and-a-half. ABC 7 political reporter Andy Shaw, producer Christine Tressel and I are waiting at O'Hare for our afternoon flight to Manchester, New Hampshire and the next chapter in this still very young primary campaign.

If there's a competition for anything -- be it high school football or a presidential election -- you have to know the odds makers are crunching the numbers. David Leonhardt notes in his NY Times blog this morning that last night's results in Iowa have been factored into a new odds projection from Intratrade. Leonhardt reports, Hillary Clinton is still the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination, she's being given a 52% chance. Even with a strong showing Thursday night, Obama's odds, according to Intratrade, stand at about 44%. It's worth noting Intratrade put Obama's odds of being elected President at only 15% back in October.

On the Republican side, Intratrade gives John McCain a 32% chance of winning the Republican nomination. The firm's numbers crunchers say Mike Huckabee is still the longest of long shots.

Okay, that's about enough numbers for now. I'm running on about 2.5 hours of sleep so my eyes are glazing over. Many thanks to ABC 7 photographers Jim Mastri, Tom Garrity and Mike Locashio who worked with us in Iowa. Here at O'Hare we're meeting up with Derrick Robinson and Rich Hillengas who will be taking the pictures you see from New Hampshire. Should Andy and I take it personally that our colleagues with cameras can only take about 48 hours of working with us before they need a break??

January 3, 2008 9:39pm

New Hampshire just got a lot more interesting.

Hillary Clinton calls Thursday evening "a great night for Democrats;" but it wasn't such a great night for the New York Senator. As we all pack-up and head to the East Coast, Clinton will have to re-tool her strategy. Should her husband remain as visible in New Hampshire? How does she soften her image?

If you saw our 5pm report Thursday evening you know that for a family who used to live in south suburban Flossmoor, Hillary's divisiveness was front-of-mind. We caught-up with the Grenard's as they caucused in Clive, Iowa tonight. Deborah Grenard, who concedes she's is in Mrs. Clinton's "prime demographic" decided to go with Barack Obama. "Why?" I asked. "Because of the electability and that's my concern with Hillary," Deborah Grenard told me. "She may just not be able to make it to the White House."

As word trickled throught the ABC News Des Moines bureau that Illinois' own Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus a reporter from Philadelphia shouted "is this the first time an African American has won a primary?" Immediately we all began to rack our brains. Did Jesse Jackson win an early race back in the 80's? More important than the answer, the question underscores the significance of this evening far beyond Barack Obama's political future. This morning, Obama himself reflected on his fortunes in Iowa noting what he called "the progress American has made" that an African-American can be a front runner in Iowa... a state that is more than 90% white.

January 3, 2008 1:10pm

BREAKING NEWS! If you've been looking for a reason for Hillary Clinton's recent slip in Iowa polls, perhaps we've found it: "Obama Girl" is back! See for yourself:

January 3, 2008 12:45pm

Already the vultures are swarming.

Republicans close to Fred Thompson's campaign are quoted as saying that if the lawyer-turned-politician-turned-actor-turned-lobyist-turned-politician doesn't finish in the top three tonight the curtain will close on his campaign. ABC 7 caught-up with Thompson at an appearance this morning here in Iowa, he declined to comment. Look for Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd along with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to quickly consider abandoning their bids if the numbers don't turn out well for them tonight.

I caught-up with Mitt Romney this morning as he made his rounds on the morning news programs. Romney was all business but summoned the strength to flash a photogenic smile when our camera lights switched on. Romney is ratcheting back expectations this afternoon saying he'll be satisfied with a second place finish.

Earlier this week long-shot candidate Dennis Kucinisch encouraged his supporters to switch to Barack Obama if Kucinich isn't deemed to be a viable candidate after the first rounds of voting take place. For those of you who haven't realized it by now Iowa's Caucus system is completely nutty. At 7 o'clock tonight an estimated 250,000 Iowans will gather at more than 1,900 precincts across the state. They'll quite literally send supporters of each candidate to their respective corners, those candidates that don't have at least 15% of the people in the room with them, are deemed "not viable" at that particular precinct. That's when the others in the room swarm the newly available voters and encourage them to come join them. It goes on and on until top tier candidates emerge.

Those results will then be tallied and sent to the Polk Convention Center in downtown Des Moines for us to report to the world. Expect Republican results to come in earlier in the evening than those for the Democrats. We, of course, will have live coverage and the latest numbers on ABC 7 News at 10pm -- see you then!

January 3, 2008 7:18am

While most of you were (hopefully) sound asleep your ABC 7 News team was hard at work. Political reporter Andy Shaw, producer Christine Tressel and photographer Jim Mastri scored a late-night interview with Barack Obama. The freshman Senator from Illinois wouldn't predict how he'll do tonight in the Iowa Caucus. "I think we have to do well," Obama told Shaw. "I think all the candidates have to do well. I think we're in a position to do it."

The deep voice and crisp cadence that make Obama's voice so recognizable are showing signs of strain. He was quite hoarse and admitted to being quite tired. Obama told Shaw he's only getting about 4-5 hours of sleep each night; but Obama insists his two daughters are "doing great" on the campaign trail as they stump for dear ol' dad.

Here's a gem from Shaw's interview with Obama:

SHAW: "Hillary's been saying she's ready to lead on day one, you're talking about hope?"

OBAMA: "Well she's been saying quite a bit here in Iowa?"

SHAW: "Even the Republicans talk about the experience issue, can you ever get past that?"

OBAMA: "Probably, in my second term."

Obama said he's not joking. He claims no one is ready to be President until they actually sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office and face their first crisis.

Stay with us through-out the day for the countdown to the Caucus. At 11am, we'll introduce you to a family that moved from south suburban Flossmoor to Iowa five years ago. They have two sons serving in Iraq. We'll tell you who they'll caucus for and why today at 11am. Also, check out our "behind the scenes" video blog on how we cover the Caucus.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008 8:20pm

Where do you think you'd find a Republican presidential candidate exactly 25 hours before Iowans begin to Caucus? Perhaps attending a rural house party with undecided voters? How about rallying volunteers in a high school gymnasium in Des Moines? Some may be doing that, but not all.

ABC 7 photographer Tom Garrity and I caught up with internet phenomenon Ron Paul during an intimate dining experience at one of Des Moines' toniest restaurants: Centro. When we got a tip that Paul and his small entourage would be swinging by this Iowa hot spot, I thought: 'Surely not, a presidential candidate must have better things to do with the clock counting down the hours until the first vote.' Apparently not. At Centro (pronounced chen-tro) Paul dined with his wife of fifty years, Carol, and five staffers.

Ron Paul stopped by to say "hello" to a few college students, including two from the western suburbs, on his way out.

Another Republican candidate, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, won't be mingling with many Iowans on the eve of the Caucus, unless he happens to run into a few people from the Hawkeye State in Hollywood. Huckabee, who is in a tight race for the top spot in Iowa, has made the risky decision to fly to California for a taping of Jay Leno's "Tonight Show." No doubt he's hoping laughs will translate into votes back here in Iowa.

First thing in the morning, look for Barack Obama to make the rounds on the national talk shows including Good Morning America just after 7am. I'll see you before then on ABC 7 News beginning at 5am. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for me to sign-off and say "goodnight."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008 7:30pm

Quick! Can you name the Prime Minister of Japan? How about naming the political parties in the United Kingdom? Heck, can you even name the Prime Minister of Britain? (Here's a hint: It's not Tony Blair anymore)

Despite the general ignorance/disinterest of many Americans in world politics, there is no shortage of enthusiasm for the Iowa Caucus on the part of the international press corp. Working along side our ABC team here at the Polk County Convention Center in Des Moines are reporters and photographers from the BBC, Al Jazeera, German television, Channel 9 in Australia and countless other foreign media outlets.

They will be beaming the results of the Caucus back to their audience in their home countries. They wouldn't be here if there wasn't a huge appetite for news from the United States abroad.

January 2, 2008
9:45 a.m.

(SOMEWHERE OVER EASTERN IOWA) -- United 351 has to be one of the safest flights in commercial aviation. In the rows behind me I count no fewer than four Secret Service agents, with their close cropped haircuts and telltale identification buttons, reporting for duty in Iowa.

It's estimated that roughly 20 percent of the US population is passionate about politics. The man who came up with that statistic, Princeton professor Markus Prior (as noted in Newsweek,) says by "passionate" he means a person inclined to volunteer for a campaign, call in to talk radio and certainly make the trek to frigid Iowa in the dead of winter qualifies.

That stat jumps to near 100 percent on this flight. As you might imagine, the buzz at the gate and now on board the airplane is all about the presidential campaign. "I've been in meetings with him at least six times, he truly is the real deal -- a genuine guy," the guy in the row behind me says to his seatmate about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. "I'm not so sure, he seems too perfect," the seatmate argues back.

Toward the back of the plane are twenty-five high school students from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They're headed to Des Moines as part of a unique high school program that will have them volunteering for campaigns of their choice in the coming days. They've been tracking the race for nearly a year now, one student tells me. Eleven of the students will be volunteering for Barack Obama and just one will work for Hillary Clinton. "Hillary is a brilliant politician but she doesn't seem like a real person," a teen in a knit hat says as he hustles his buddy for the last bit of a bacon from a fast food meal. "Barack is just a cool guy -- he's doing it for the right reasons -- he doesn't think it's owed to him," a female student observes.

I'm quite sure the 120 people on this flight, including many journalists, aren't the ideal focus group with which to determine the outcome of the Iowa Caucus. But they do give you a bit of hope that not all Americans have lost their appetite for politics. After all, our democracy (complete with quirks like the caucus) is a political system that people in some other countries -- including Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto and countless Iraqis -- have given their lives to promote.