At Rivier, underdog makes low-key visit

By Laura A. Kiernan, May 16, 1999

You want your politics unusual? Picture this.

It's a tranquil morning at Rivier College in Nashua and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, very much at ease, is seated alongside Sister Lucille Thibodeau, the college president. Nuns in habit, priests and ministers, a rabbi, students and faculty made up a small, invitation-only audience. At a briefing with his staff the night before, Bradley was wary of having any reporters and cameras in the room -- but this is after all a presidential campaign. So the media types were politely asked to keep their intrusive presence to a minimum, and they complied.

Then Bradley began a discussion with his audience about "finding some meaning in life that's deeper than the material." That's right. And it clicked. The Rhodes Scholar/basketball star/ former US senator talked about his idea that politics shouldn't be about polls, money, and spin, but about service. He heard from the audience about the need for more community volunteers, the plight of working parents and their children, getting at the core problems in our inner cities. Sister Thibodeau, a confessed idealist, was won over.

Bradley "is telling us something we need to hear about this time, about changing our course," she said. "The man has a common touch," she added, "a real draw to ordinary people."

Bradley's staff says the candidate wants these small meetings -- which are not open to the public -- because he believes they better prepare him to lead the country. He told his audience at Rivier that he didn't want "to take the spotlight" but wanted to focus on the efforts of ordinary Americans. Gee, what an oddball philosophy in a business full of egomaniacs. No bunting, not a single "Bradley for President" sign, no stump speech this time. But what about getting yourself elected?

It came to Bradley almost as an afterthought. "By the way, I am running," he said with a smile as he reluctantly prepared to leave. "I hope you will become involved in our effort now that you have a sense of part of what it is about."

A Navy man takes his case to the Army

They toasted the "office of commander in chief" (and you'd better believe they mean to honor only the office and not its current holder), their brides, the Army, and the Corps of Cadets. And then, the West Point Society of New Hampshire sat down at its Founders Day dinner last week to hear from a Navy man, US Senator John McCain of Arizona, Republican candidate for president. For his part, McCain, a fighter pilot shot down in Vietnam who spent five years as a POW, said he was ready to take "questions, comments or insults" from this assembly of Army alums. The only slight came when more than one member of the long gray line called out: "Go Army! Beat Navy!" (They say that a lot).

Behind the scenes, some sound advice

Perhaps the most powerful man in all of New Hampshire politics was standing in the back of the room during McCain's appearance -- Bob Molloy, a familiar figure in a flashy red baseball cap. For 22 years, Molloy and his crew have been the ones setting up the microphones and speakers at an endless number of political events.

Molloy has stayed on the job even though his wife won Megabucks a year ago for more than $2 million. He has made one "executive decision" since hitting the jackpot -- no more middle-of-the-night gigs with campaign advance teams trying to get the next day's sound in place.

He says he doesn't have a favorite candidate and doesn't plan on picking one. "All I care is that when you step up to the microphone, something comes out," Molloy said.

McCain talks tough on Kosovo, defense

In what was obviously a made-for-McCain audience, the candidate talked about the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the need for a "victory" (his blunt talk on the subject has kept his media visibility very high) and the need to spend more money on defense. The mood was all duty, honor, and country, which, and in the aftermath of the Monica muck, is what gives the straight-talking McCain his appeal.

In what must be a first on the list of "tokens of appreciation," McCain was given a cadet-issue US Army bathrobe (thousands of bathrobe bets are placed on the Army-Navy game) and a bronze arrow stolen in 1956 by the Army track team from a statue at the Naval Academy. Then he was off to New York City, for meetings with Henry Kissinger and mega rich Omaha investor Warren Buffet, a Democrat who supports campaign finance reform, one of McCain's favorite causes.

One of the organizers of the West Point Society event was Concord lawyer Jim Steiner (Class of 1978), who was co-chairman of the draft Colin Powell effort in New Hampshire in 1996. Steiner, a Republican, is a former member of the state Board of Education (1996-98) and, he says, he's thinking over running for governor. Meanwhile, Mccain will be back in New Hampshire, at Steiner's Concord home, on Memorial Day weekend.

Gore due to visit state on Saturday

Vice President Al Gore will be in New Hampshire Saturday night for the Hlllsborough County Democrats dinner at St. George's Greek Church in Manchester. In the morning, he will be the commencement speaker at the University New Hampshire in Durham. And it's official: Veteran campaign aide Nick Baldick will direct the Gore 2000 operation in New Hampshire.

New Net site offers inside information

Attention political junkies and the just plain interested. Two very energetic graduates of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government have set up a new Web site called, which will give you a daily dose of political news and gossip from sources around the country -- and it's free. Based in New York, Chris Riback and Taegan Goddard are up every morning at dawn, scanning the Internet and picking newspaper stories for their page, which is up by 8:30 a.m.

Most important in these days of Internet overload, PoliticalInsider .com is not a dumping ground for just anything political: Riback and Goddard are actually combing through stuff, picking what's hot and relevent -- and factual. "We're striving to be the most accurate, anti-Matt Drudge source of political information out there," said Goddard.

Thayer to head Smith campaign

Judy Thayer, who had a tumultuous tenure as chairwoman of the state Board of Education from 1986 to 1992, has been named chairwoman of US Senator Bob Smith's presidential campaign. Kevin Smith (no relation to the senator) will be the campaign's field director, and Barabara Hagan, former president of the New Hampshire Right to Life committee, will run Smith's Manchester campaign office.

Ignoring tax pledge may pay off in end

Yogurt maker Gary Hirshberg has been taking a lot of heat since he announced formation of his Courage and Leadership PAC, which will raise money for candidates who promise not to take the anti-tax pledge. Various legislators whined in public because they weren't included on a list of lawmakers who will be honored at the PAC's fund-raising kickoff Friday night. In what many people consider a badge of honor, Hirshberg even got himself charicatured in a Bob Dix cartoon on the editorial page of the Union Leader of Manchester. "I figure I have arrived," Hirshberg said.

Hirshberg says all the attention has been good for the cause. Moreover, the howls of protest prove it is money that talks in politics, and that's exactly why Hirshberg set up a fund-raising PAC instead of holding just another press conference. "We hit a nerve," he said.

Buchanan to open Manchester office

Pat Buchanan and his wife, Shelley, will be in Manchester today to mark the opening of his campaign office at 788 Elm St. And the campaign has named a field director -- 20-year-old Luke Freudenberg of Wolfeboro. A political science student at Loyola University in New Orleans, Freudenberg has taken a year off for the job. "Whether you agree with Pat of not he speaks his mind," Freudenberg says, and he says he agrees with him on most issues, especially protecting American workers. Veteran political activist Shelly Uscinski is running Buchanan's New Hampshire operation.

Short takes

There's an effort underway to save Robie's Country Store in Hooksett. Until it shut down in 1997, after 110 years of operation by the Robie family, the store was the ultimate photo-op for presidential candidates seeking a small-town America backdrop. Now, a group including New Hampshire College president Richard Gustafson, state Representative David Hess, a Hooksett Republican, and TV host and businessman Don Rondeau has been organized to raise $200,000 to buy the place and restore it as a museum . . . And, lest we forget, Texas Governor George W. Bush will be at the Center of New Hampshire on June 14 for the Lilac Luncheon sponsored by the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women.

Got a tip or a comment from the campaign trail, state government or town hall? The Political Diary wants to hear from you at: Political Diary, The Boston Globe/New Hampshire Weekly, 1650 Elm St., Manchester, NH 03101, or by e-mail at Kiernan(AT SIGN SYMBOL) Please include home and work telephone numbers.