NORTH CONWAY, N.H. - The Harvey Gibson Center for Senior Citizens sits at the center of the village, and five days a week there's lunch, and often there's a speaker, too. But there was something different about lunch here the other day, and we're not talking about the way the pasta tubes were seasoned and how the spinach was prepared. We are talking about the speaker. She was older than all but a handful of the guests.
She wolfed down the pasta, picked at the spinach, and when the strawberry ice cream arrived she devoured it with gusto. But Doris Haddock sat at the round table in the corner not only to be served. She served up a plate of political rebellion seasoned by age and with a side dish of straight talk. She's 94 and have I mentioned yet that she is running for the Senate as a Democrat?
She's been running for months, but it's walking that provided Granny D, as she's known, with her first distinction. She's a walker, sure to say, and in 1999 she set out on a walk and didn't stop walking until the next year - and until she had covered 3,200 miles. This wasn't one of those 25-mile pledge walks, with balloons every mile and souvenir T-shirts for everybody and a bunch of volunteer nurse practitioners at every stop. This was a protest march, designed to bring attention to the role that big money plays in American politics, and if you think about it you probably remember a sweet little feature in your local paper about the 90-year-old who walked for a cause.
Now no one's saying around here that she's going to win the Senate race, and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee's not too worried about New Hampshire. The Republican incumbent is Judd Gregg, who was governor and whose father was governor and who, for a slim guy, is a pretty big man in Washington, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which means he decides how much is spent and who gets it. Not much of a chance Mr. Gregg is going to lose this one, but if he does, Granny D has a pledge. She's only going to serve one term.
"I have a mission," she says, and if you're sitting beside her at the table you have no doubt that she does. "My mission is to get public funding for campaigns. I'm using this campaign to show that people are the power [but] they're being represented by the big interests." And this mission is a metaphor. Here are the campaign rules: She's accepting no money from anyone but individuals. She's not accepting more than $2,000 per contributor. She's accepting no bundling, just in case you have in mind getting a bunch of your friends together and all writing checks and sending them in together. Save your money, and your elastic band. No can do in Granny D's campaign.
More from Granny D's table talk (the strawberry ice cream is going fast, and so are her lips): "People don't understand that the problem in this country today is the special interests. The amount of money we're giving as subsidies - gifts, not loans - is amazing. There's corruption everywhere, from the tobacco companies to pharmaceuticals. The amount we give comes from our taxes, from our pockets. By owning the people who pass the laws, these big interests make sure their subsidies don't stop."
She goes on, but you get the point. She's hoping all of New Hampshire gets the point.
"I don't know whether she can win the election," says Dorothy Solomon, who heads the Carroll County Democratic Party, "but at least she can raise the questions that are really important to the state and the country."
Granny D was born in Laconia, a lake town, the daughter of a man who ran a furniture warehouse. She went to Laconia High, had three years at Emerson College, in Boston, and got married to what she describes as "an Amherst man," and by that you should take it to mean the college in Massachusetts, not the town in southern New Hampshire. She raised two children and then (these are her words, and you will not doubt their truth) she started "to raise hell."
The walking started when she was a girl, and when people walked everywhere, in part because in Laconia there were only two cars anyway and neither of them belonged to her or her family. She walked the hills, as so many people here do, and as a school girl she walked a mile home for lunch and then a mile back to class. If she were a literary critic, her memoir would be called "A Walker in the Country."
"Most people her age are on a walker, and she's a walker," says Judson Hale, Sr., the editor in chief of the Old Farmer's Almanac and Yankee Magazine and a neighbor of Granny D. "Her strength is that she stays in the swim of things. She's the personification of New Hampshire: We enjoy independence and being contrary. She's independent and contrary."
Independent, contrary- and armed with a Web site. And with a message, too, for people her age and some a bit younger. "A lot of us have decided that no longer should people sit on their asses at 65. They should start getting busy at 65 to change the country." Pretty good message, and nonpartisan, too.