“Here’s what it comes down to in politics,” John Kasich professed to a room full of eager New Hampshirites at his 105th town hall before the state’s primary, “it’s the head and the heart.” To dilute the complex waters of our innumerable political institutions down to these familiar catalysts of human inclination at first seemed inconceivable. How could it be so simple? Then, as Governor Kasich attempted to impress an undecided voter who was wavering between the Governor, Secretary Clinton, and Senator Sanders, I realized that the politics of our early primaries relies heavily on personal appeal.
“It’s the vision thing,” he said. “If you have the vision and you can get people to understand what the vision is and you can communicate to them that you understand their problems, that’s how you win elections.” If this claim is true, how could any candidate hope to win their party’s nomination―let alone the general election―without demonstrating a willingness to connect with voters, not as a politician, not even as a fellow citizen, but as merely another human? They couldn’t. That fact was axiomatic in New Hampshire.
While in Iowa, I noticed a friendly engagement between citizens that manifested itself at the state’s unique caucuses. New Hampshire bred less cohesiveness among voters. Instead, candidates’ ground efforts supplanted the aura of familiarity that was left behind in Des Moines.
I was assigned to work for Bernie Sanders the day of the primary. Though his campaign was expecting a win that evening, they sent all volunteers out on the bleak streets of Manchester to canvass for the Senator. In the span of four hours we knocked on upwards of seventy doors, yet were greeted by only eight voters. Understandably so. Some front steps were littered with literally dozens of pamphlets, door-hangers, and post-cards from nearly every campaign. It was as if the election had left a paper-trail wherever it went; street-corners were infested just the same with posters and yard signs.
The reluctance of New Hampshirites, bombarded with ads and all other sorts of propaganda imaginable, to respond to a campaign’s ground efforts was understandable. Still, that did not detract from their ardent participation and interest in hearing what candidates themselves had to say.
During a town hall meeting held just hours after that of John Kasich, Chris Christie advertised his skills as a listener that he had cultivated naturally during his tenure as governor. Attendants of the meeting didn’t simply interrogate Christie, they engaged in dynamic conversations with him―which he welcomed―to gauge his worthiness as a candidate. The theme conveyed in all of the Governor’s answers was one of trust, transparency, and honesty. Three characteristics that not only voters, but people in general find admirable. Governor Christie’s appeal to the head and the heart was irresistible, regardless of party affiliation.
While I realized that Kasich’s maxim of the head and the heart was rooted in authenticity, I have slight concern that some constituents may misunderstand the Governor’s message. There is a difference between understanding emotion as one of many factors to be considered when making political decisions and making decisions as a direct reaction to the incitements of these volatile emotions. I’m interested to see how the voters of South Carolina will navigate this narrow precipice during the Republican primary next weekend.
Nick Boney 2/12/16