LOUDON, N.H. — Will the 2014 midterms prove the death-knell for the traditional New Hampshire town hall?
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown and his backers have been relentless in pushing the case that the Democratic rival he’s trying to unseat, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, has eschewed the traditional format in a way that dodges tough questions from ordinary Granite State voters about supporting President Barack Obama’s agenda.
But should Shaheen and several other Democrats on the ballot in New Hampshire prevail, even in an unfavorable national climate, it might be grounds to reconsider the town hall format even for national candidates like those aiming to win the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Shaheen’s argument is that town halls have the propensity to be taken over by outside interest groups. She brushed off the Republican criticism last week, after an official Senate and Department of Agriculture event at a local farm.
“These are out-of-state people who are supporting an out-of-state candidate . . . and trying to take away the debate about the real issues in this race. The fact is I’ve done, you know, many town halls, a number of telephone town halls, which is a way to reach literally thousands of people, and we’ll continue to do that,” Shaheen told CQ Roll Call.
The “out-of-state candidate” is, of course, Brown. He moved north after losing his Senate seat in 2012 to Elizabeth Warren in neighboring Massachusetts. He was born in New Hampshire, but Shaheen is a well-known quantity here, as a three-term governor before she was elected to the Senate in 2008. And the Granite State is the kind of place, given its key role in the presidential nominating process, that attracts political operatives and candidates alike from far reaches of the country.
Shaheen held a number of smaller events and round tables last week, but an Aug. 18 event was getting all the buzz. A young GOP operative in a chicken costume was arrested for disorderly conduct at a parade in Londonderry. Police told local reporters that 23-year old Michael Zona was taken into custody for harassing both Shaheen and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
“I believe Senator Jeanne Shaheen should be holding town halls and I have a First Amendment right to express that point of view,” Zona told WMUR-TV. “I wasn’t bothering anyone. I wasn’t disturbing anyone. In fact, I got a good deal of encouragement from people along the parade route.”
The chicken resurfaced Wednesday at this Loudon farm, but was not visible from the event itself, held at the end of a dirt road and blocked from access by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s security detail.