If the voters of New Hampshire approve, "Granny D" would like very much to become "Senator D."
The 94-year-old activist, who won national attention and acclaim from the likes of US Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold when she walked 3,200 miles across the United States to promote campaign finance reform in 1999 and 2000, is preparing to take another unprecedented journey--on the campaign trail.
Doris "Granny D" Haddock will formally announce Thursday that she is challenging Republican US Senator Judd Gregg, who is seeking a third term representing New Hampshire. And her "down home" campaign could well turn out to be one of the most provocative and inspired candidacies this country has seen in years. She is already assured of the Democratic nomination, and calls are coming in from young activists who want to trek to New Hampshire to help the nation's oldest political newcomer.
"We're moving things around in the house to make it a headquarters," Granny D. said from her Dublin, New Hampshire, home. "And we're setting things up in the yard so that the young people who want to work on the campaign can pitch tents."
Needless to say, Granny D.'s candidacy will not resemble the cookie-cutter campaigns run by most senatorial contenders. While senate candidates usually spend years preparing to make their races, Granny D. decided to run only last week, after the expected Democratic candidate against Gregg, state Senator Burt Cohen, folded his campaign. Cohen has been mounting a feisty, if uphill, challenge to Gregg, but his prospects were doomed when reports began to surface that his campaign manager had gone missing, along with what was left of his campaign fund. There was no suggestion that Cohen had done anything wrong, but the controversy promised to make a continued candidacy impossible. So Cohen called fellow Democrats last Thursday and said he was dropping out.
With less than twenty-four hours to go before the filing deadline to fill the party's line on the ballot, New Hampshire Democrats were scrambling. They needed a new candidate against Gregg. That's when Granny D., who was born in 1910 in the New Hampshire community of Laconia, stepped in. So far, she's gotten enthusiastic support from top Democrats like state party chair Kathy Sullivan, who says, "I think she has the capacity to bring people into the election who otherwise feel disenfranchised."
Granny D's candidacy could be a significant factor in presidential politics this fall. New Hampshire is a swing state, which George W. Bush won by only 7,200 votes in 2000. Granny D's appeal to reformers, women who see the outspoken activist as a role model and young people who distrust conventional politicians could well bring out voters who might otherwise have stayed home. And Democrats expect such voters would back John Kerry's challenge to Bush.
But Granny D. is not just running to bump up turnout.
"I intend to win," she says. "I want to go to the Senate and serve only one term. In that term, I will use all of my energy, and I have a lot of energy left, to get us back our democracy. I will work for public financing of federal campaigns. I will work to get the Senate back to serving the public interest, not the interests of the big campaign contributors. Maybe they will listen to a great grandmother when I tell them that we have to clean things up."
She'll continue her criticism of the war in Iraq. "I think it was an unnecessary war. Mr. Bush got a little excited about using his new weapons and thought, 'Oh, boy, let's have a war,'" she says. "He have done so much damage with his policy of 'revenge, revenge.' I want to talk about taking the steps that will again have America seen as a friend to the rest of the world, not a fiend, not an enemy, not a target."
Granny D. would, of course, bring a uniquely experienced voice to debates about Social Security and Medicare. But she says her special focus as a senator would be on issues of concern to Americans on the other end of the age spectrum. Quoting Jonathan Kozol's writings, she says, "I have trouble going to sleep at night thinking that one in five American children don't have enough to eat. A senator should be able to do something about that, and I would."
All of this talk of what she would do as a senator might seem a bit premature. After all, Gregg, a former governor and one of the best-known political figures in the state has raised millions for his re-election campaign, while Granny D. is starting from scratch. But the woman who is credited with helping to force Congress to get serious about the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill is undaunted. She expects she'll be able to raise enough "clean money" to run a real campaign. And she is excited about the prospect of debating Gregg, a 57-year-old conservative whose closeness to the Bush family may not be an advantage this year.
Will age be an issue?
"What?" asks Granny D., with a laugh. "Do you think anyone would actually say I was too old? That's crazy."
Copyright © 2004 The Nation