Occasional Reports, Notes and Commentaries on the Road to the White House
New Hampshire Christian Coalition Gala Marks a Start in the Campaign
 by Eric M. Appleman






On Saturday night Feb. 6, 1999, the New Hampshire Christian Coalition put on "The First in the Nation Primary Gala Celebration." One of the biggest events to date in the nascent campaign, it drew a crowd of 1,100 New Hampshirites and activists from Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts to the Center of New Hampshire complex in downtown Manchester. 

After a lengthy video tribute to Christian Coalition founder and chairman Pat Robertson, and after Robertson's speech, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes spoke to the audience. Former Vice President Dan Quayle put in a video appearance; he will be in the state later in the week (Feb. 11 and 12). Sen. Bob Smith's wife Mary Jo appeared on his behalf. Smith, who will formally announce his candidacy Feb. 18 in Wolfeboro, was tied up with the impeachment trial in Washington. 

Two of the top GOP presidential prospects were notably absent. Elizabeth Dole is set to speak to the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Monday night (Feb. 8); she was originally scheduled to speak on volunteerism, but the speech has assumed political overtones since her resignation from the American Red Cross one month ago. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who is seen by many national observers as the frontrunner, has not set foot in the state since the Republican Governors Association meeting in November 1995.

Speaking to the news media prior to the event, Christian Coalition founder and chairman Pat Robertson said the time has come to "turn our eyes from the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky axis and begin focusing on the future of America in the next millenium." Robertson, who himself spent a fair amount of time in New Hampshire as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination back in 1988, said he wanted to "lay out some of the challenges that face this nation and what could be at stake in this next election." Over the last year Robertson had been backing Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO), but Ashcroft ruled out a presidential bid on January 5. Robertson nonetheless pronounced himself satisfied with the field of candidates.

The four candidates appearing at the gala are all competing for the support of social conservatives. Gary Bauer has been fighting for their causes for a decade as head of the Family Research Council. He seems to be attracting some former Buchanan supporters, although one woman at his reception expressed the concern that he is "too nice." Steve Forbes has been assiduously wooing the Christian Right during the past two years. Alan Keyes' fiery speeches never fail to stir up the crowd, but some have concerns that he is not electable. John A. Simmons, an attorney and former state representative from North Hampton, said Keyes is "highly qualified" and "eloquently speaks to people's hearts." Simmons said the question voters should ask is not "Have you been elected?" or "Do you have money?" but "What do you have to offer the American people?" Former Vice President Dan Quayle can be thought of as the father of "family values;" it was his speech that put the topic on the radar.

This event drew national press and even some international press out of Washington, DC and New York. It did not get overmuch coverage in the local papers:

New Hampshire Sunday News (Manchester): On the front page, below the fold, an overview article on the developing field of presidential candidates mentioned the event, but the main story by Jeanne Morris ("Christian Coalition event seeks to narrow GOP field") appeared on 15A along with a photo, not of the event, but of half a dozen protesters outside the event. 

Sunday Telegraph (Nashua): The article by Kevin Landrigan ("Sparks fly at Christian Coalition event") ran on the front page below the fold, with the jump on page 6. The Telegraph did not run a photo of the event.

Sunday Monitor (Concord): The article by Pamela M. Walsh ("For conservatives, a night of early shopping") ran on the front page below the fold, with the jump on page A10 (back of main section). The Monitor did not run a photo of the event.

Copyright 1999 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.  All rights reserved.