CONTOCOOK, N.H. — Drive through town, turn up the hill, and swing into an old orchard homestead that has been in the hands of only two families since 1760. The air near the huge wooden crates out by the barn is filled with the autumn aroma of apples.
After a long, difficult political contest, this choice — which apple is richer, which juicer, which more versatile, which more enduring, which better for baking — is about the only decision New Hampshire is ready to make right now.
Now, the priorities are cider (richer in autumn because the apples have matured) and high school football (with the town rivalry games completed, the divisional playoffs linger).
So dare we say the New Hampshire primary is but 38 months off? Dare we toss around candidates’ names like field apples, known in these parts as “blow downs.” rotting on the moist, mushy ground? Dare we shatter the tranquility with the horrible word “viable,” used only in hospital waiting rooms and political campaigns?
Maybe we do, given that former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida already have asked to be invited to Lincoln Day dinners. Only the serious or foolhardy volunteer to travel to New Hampshire in February.
We plunge in not only with reluctance, but also with the knowledge that 2016 will be an especially intriguing contest. Both party nominations will be open, with no incumbent eligible to run. There’s also the knowledge that New Hampshire next time will provide unusually interesting terrain, because as a result of this month’s election, every member of the congressional delegation (and the governor) is a woman, the first time that has happened anywhere.
That sounds revolutionary, especially for a state that until recently was steeped in a certain brand of conservatism, the kind that resists change. But in 2008, New Hampshire became the first state with a female majority in a legislative chamber.
Women are a powerful part of the political scene here. That fact surely has not escaped the attention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who won here in 2008, and Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who went to college up in Hanover and is fired with ambition if not visibility.
Because columns of this sort are supposed to be loaded with names, here they are: Republican candidates might include Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and Paul Ryan, whose advantage is that his sister works for Dunkin’ Donuts, the most revered company in the region.
Democrats might include Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, and even Joe Biden, whose six visits since Labor Day cannot be a coincidence.
Does it matter that John Hickenlooper has started to make contact with locals, and do you have any idea who he is? He’s the governor of Colorado.
Yet it isn’t personalities but politics that first must be worked out. The Democrats must contemplate the world after President Obama, and decide whether they can sustain their coalition of women, minorities, and immigrants with him in retirement.
But the biggest challenge is the Republicans’. They cannot again tie their fortunes to a base that is aging rapidly and losing its vitality. They cannot afford to get clobbered among voters under 30 and among minorities, even though there aren’t many minorities here, where the voting-age population is 96 percent white.
Memo to Republicans contemplating a New Hampshire visit: Republicans here are concerned about fiscal issues, not social issues. Likely GOP primary voters here support abortion rights more than Americans as a whole, and they don’t recoil at gay marriage. New Hampshire Republicans didn’t even mount an effort to repeal gay marriage when they had a chance.
One last thing: The other day, some folks around here were sitting with their coffee cups wondering — actually speculating — who would be the first damn fool to cross state lines to write about the 2016 election.
Now they know.
David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org