Don O’Day: Report From New Hampshire

For most Westporters, winter in New Hampshire means skiing.

Don O’Day packs a camera and a note pad.

Every 4 years — when the quirky New England state commands the national political spotlight — the former chair of the Board of Education, and self-described “Joe Lieberman of the Westport Democratic party” (he supported Jim Marpe for 1st selectman) heads north.

He takes a first-hand look at the men and women who — at this early stage of the presidential campaign — crisscross the Granite State. O’Day is there as they speak to small crowds, mingle afterward, and engage in the type of retail politics that the rest of the country outside of Iowa* can only dream about.

Don O’Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

O’Day has been a political junkie since 1968. As an 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was fascinated by stories about Robert Kennedy’s run for the White House.

He worked on Al Gore’s 1988 race. In 2000, when the Tennessee senator ran again, O’Day left Westport for New Hampshire to help. “It was so cool to see how folks there gathered at diners and VFW halls to see the candidates,” he recalls. “They were as engaged in politics as I am.”

He returned in 2004 and ’08. Board of Ed commitments kept him here 8 years ago. But in 2016 he was there again.

His most recent trip ended yesterday (after watching a recording of “Morning Joe”).

The O’Day family, with (rear) “Morning Joe”‘s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Over the course of a few days O’Day heard 7 Democratic candidates speak. He asked questions, gave feedback, and spoke personally with most.

Some encounters confirmed his earlier impressions. Others altered them.

Here — in alphabetical order — are O’Day’s thoughts.

The New Hampshire primary never disappoints. This year was no different. The crowds and enthusiasm appeared to be much larger and more enthusiastic than in the past.

My wife Toni and I and 2 of our sons (Donny and Mike — plus Mike’s girlfriend, Nicole) set out to see and hopefully talk to as many of the presidential candidates as possible, and as many times as possible.

We weren’t the only Westporters in New Hampshire. Jeff Wieser and his wife Pat also made the trip to see the candidates.

Bottom line: I have no idea what is going to happen today, other than a Sanders win – just like 2016. Second through 5th place is up for grabs, but I got the sense that Joe Biden might be closer to 5th than 2nd.

In alphabetical order, here’s what I saw:

Joe Biden

A true gentleman and the most decent national politician I have ever met.  Letting “Joe be Joe” wasn’t the approach though, and it has hurt him.  Sorry to say that this may not be his time.

Joe Biden with Donny O’Day.

Pete Buttigieg

Much more than the new shiny object in the early contests (see Hart and Dean).   Pete’s crowds were huge, and his answers to every question I heard over 3 events were thoughtful and detailed. He came off as an incredibly intelligent, passionate and gifted politician. If this isn’t his time, I think it will come and soon. Maybe now.

A screenshot of Don O’Day questioning Pete Buttigieg.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy seems to be building momentum, and was my candidate going in. She also got better and better every time we saw her. She has reasonable views that are very progressive, unless they are compared to a Sanders or Warren platform.  Her chances will soar if she finishes in the top 3.

Don O’Day and Amy Klobuchar.

Bernie Sanders

What struck me as a cult following that I mistook for simply an anti-Hillary position in 2016 is now clearly an all-out movement with deep passion. Bernie’s promise of free college, Medicare for all, a strong environmental position, and his “us versus them” message has never wavered. There were more Sanders volunteers than for any other candidate. I’m pretty sure what stopped Bernie in 2016 will stop him again in 2020. Also, Bernie is not a very nice guy. But my son did warm up the Bernie crowd we attended with a mic check.

A Bernie Sanders mic check with Mike O’Day.

Tom Steyer

My favorite event, because the crowds were less intense, it was held in a brewery and Tom bought everyone a beer. He has the most consistent anti-Trump message, and a very strong climate message too. He’s more than a guy with billions; his in-person persona is quite different from what you see on the debate stage. He’s not going away.

Tom Steyer and Don O’Day.

Elizabeth Warren

I only saw Senator Warren once, and that was at a large arena, so it’s harder to form an opinion about her from personal contact. I really admire “and yet she persisted,” and that should never stop. But Senator Warren is not the leader of the progressive movement – Bernie is. As long as he is in the race, she will not win.

Andrew Yang

The candidate who makes everyone think, and thoroughly entertains and engages you while doing it. This is just not his time, but his message is powerful and honest.

Andy Yang and Don O’Day.

There you have it: One man’s opinions. They’re calm and measured. Please respond civilly in the “Comments” section. Overly personal attacks — on candidates, other posters or O’Day himself — will be removed.

*Though probably not in 2024

13 responses to “Don O’Day: Report From New Hampshire

  1. Celeste Champagne

    “Mike” Brzezinski is looking good:-) Enjoyed this report directly from the New Hampshire front.

  2. Kristan Hamlin

    I was interested to read Don O’Day’s New Hampshire primary impressions and I am grateful he shared them. I found this one following insight interesting because I’ve only heard it expressed before from other senators who’ve worked with Sanders. But Don has now written: “Also, Bernie is not a very nice guy.” I am wondering what he saw that caused him to say that “Bernie is not a very nice guy.”? I would appreciate it if he would share what he observed to cause him to say that. Thx.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      I grew up in Burlington, VT while he was mayor and I and other family members have had personal interactions with him. He’s been grumpy and curmudgeonly, with a terse and unpersonable manner. (While we were in college, he came into the store my husband worked at to purchase electronics. He did not treat my husband well, berated him for a corporate policy, and was a jerk.) Another family member is a state rep in VT who has many personal connections with Sanders over the years. They’re an ardent Bernie supporter, and they still admit that he’s kind of a jerk.
      Politicians, just like regular people, can be personable and have horrible policy ideas, as well as be really unpleasant and have great policy positions. Personality and capability don’t always go hand in hand.

    • Kristan – I’m a big believer in Maya Angelou’s “when someone show’s you who they are believe them the first time”. I gave Bernie a pass in 2016 for his “hey you dang kids, get off of my lawn” demeanor. Well, I saw the same thing, only worse, in 2020. Just a grumpy and angry guy. He’ll win tonight but I’ve had enough of nasty and I think the majority of Dems have as well.

      • Thank you, Elizabeth and Don, for taking the time to share those insights with your fellow Westporters. It is interesting to learn about that side of him.

    • I’ve never met Bernie but I’m good friends with his nephews. Let’s just say they don’t get along very well.

  3. I would vote for any of them over Trump.

  4. Great insight – Great Perspective from a family who has lived the process – Share Don’s views on Biden- Mayor Pete / Bernie one and two finish in NH – Klobuchar a distant but strong third – Warren slow fade as she runs out of money – the candidate to watch is the one who is betting all the chips on Super Tuesday .. Thanks Again Don

  5. Thanks for your interesting insights.

    Re Tom Steyer: he was varsity soccer captain at my alma mater, Yale, four years after I graduated. The amazing thing is, he didn’t earn his first varsity letter until junior year yet was still voted captain for his senior year—and Yale tradition calls for only one captain per varsity team.

    I heard only very good things about his character.

    • This is very interesting. My wife, Lori, is deeply involved with the gun violence prevention group, Mom’s Demand Action for Gunsense in America,’ and met Tom at an event in South Carolina last summer before we moved to Westport as political refugees. She was extremely impressed by him. This anecdote about his younger days matches what she told me after meeting him. What an impressive person.

  6. I have been working in technology for the better part of twenty years, now, the past four being focused on Machine Learning and AI technologies.

    I’ve been a Yang supporter since first learning about him. He’s smart, seemingly humble and he cares, #HumanityFirst

    I’ve always known he wouldn’t win, though I held out a small hope he might. I wish the other candidates were better able to articulate his basic message – that Trump, is a symptom of the disease afflicting America.

    The impacts of automation powered by ML & AI are already here and will only accelerate and become more problematic. Which is putting it very mildly.

    This is a problem made for American ingenuity and problem solving.

    We have to fundamentally re-think how we frame the messaging around the problem and its solutions.

    I hope whoever wins the primary will adopt some of Yang’s framing, messaging and policy proposals.

    Rural and middle America are HURTING and are fading into fascism and authoritarianism and we need to provide them an alternative which doesn’t dismiss their concerns.