Decades-Long Defender of N.H. Primary Dips into His Vault of Political Tales

Nov 16, 2015

Last week we took a closer look at the most vigorous defender of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary: Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

Over the past four decades, Gardner has met nearly every candidate to run for president. That access has provided him a fair share of stories -- so many stories, in fact, that we couldn't find room for even a fraction of them all.

So, here are a few gems from a past interview. And remember: These are just a handful of the many, many, maaaaany pages from Gardner's primary scrapbook.

How George H.W. Bush worked the room

"George H.W. Bush, when he came in to file, he said to me, 'I would like to meet the person whose desk is the furthest away from this room.' So, I took him all the way to the  back, and he talked to that person and the next one and worked his way. He is the only one that did something like that."

Talking race relations and baseball with Barack Obama

Barack Obama filed for the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot in Gardner's office in 2007.
Credit AP

"With Obama, I wanted to convey something to him. I said, 'You did something that only you, as a black man, could do. When you were asked the question: Is it fair for you to come to a state like this - a place where people don't look like you? I read that you answered it, that you were a White Sox fan and just because we are all Red Sox fans, but does that make any difference? And I said, 'I often get that from out of state media.' "

More baseball talk with Obama

"I said, 'Did you know that New Hampshire has a really incredible record on civil rights?' And then I told him about Major League Baseball. I said, 'Jackie Robinson got to play baseball because of New Hampshire.' 'I never heard that. Tell me about that," (Obama) said. And I told him the story....."

The time a guy paid his filing fee out of a spaghetti box

Bill Gardner holds up a photo of him getting screened before entering his office the day Hillary Clinton filed for the N.H. Primary on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

"One guy came in and he had stiff jeans on; he was from Pennsylvania. And he had his money in a Mueller's Spaghetti box... And after he files, Don Tibbets, the press room guy, would always do a story. Every candidate that filed would always get a story. So, Don went up to this guy and said 'My name is Don Tibbets, I know you just filed for president - why did you do it.?' .... 

That time Iowa tried to get N.H. to move the primary date back because of a 'special' pork convention

"I said are you from Iowa?,  Gardner asked one reporter. "Yes, I've been there a longtime," he replied. "There is a pork convention, is there?," Gardner asked. "Let me put it this way, every weekend of the year just about there is a pork convention somewhere in Iowa," the reporter answered. "I said, Oh my goodness. Have you seen our newspapers in big letters, 'Iowa Loses the Pork,' Gardner said. "He says, 'We saw it all, we saw it all.' So, the whole thing was a hoax? And it was."

Credit AP

Up close and personal with John Kerry in 2003

"When John Kerry came into file, for some reason someone yelled, so that person got the first question and the question was -- and this had not happened; New Hampshire reporters have never asked like this -- but the question was, why had he parted his hair on a different side and was it some kind of makeover for him? But then the second question from a Boston reporter was, 'Are you using Botox now?' I mean that was unusual."

And the weird questions continue

"The first question that I got, one candidate said, 'What was the best vacation that I've had in the last couple of years, what did I do?' It's like you don't prepare for that, it's unscripted, what does that say about a person? But a person, obviously, in the confines of a friendly place, wanted to find out about that person, what did the person want to do to have fun? And it brings out part of the self." 

Getting comfy with the candidates

"In a setting of a person's living room, my neighbors, some standing, sitting on the floor, on the couch, you ask the kind of questions, you feel at ease. Those character questions are the questions."

The N.H. Advantage

"Everybody who runs, no matter who the person is, is going to have the same chance as far as being a part of it. What happens after that - some are better debaters, some have the gift of gab, some have the gift of their character, but in the whole swirl of it all -- this place at least still helps to get the right person to get there."

On Primary Day, all votes are equal

"Don't be an imperial candidate. That's why U.S. senators have such a rough time. Get out there and be comfortable in your own skin and let people see you."

"Some people are smarter, and some people are better looking, and some people are stronger and some people have been given stability in their minds. There are all kinds of differences. People are born poor and stay poor but the one thing - the universal suffrage."

"When you're in that line, in that polling place, and if there is a millionaire in back of you and the prettiest person in your city, state or whatever, or Miss This or Mr. Muscle Man - it doesn't matter, your vote is the same as their vote." 

Finally, Gardner's advice for candidates

"Don't be an imperial candidate. That's why U.S. senators have such a rough time. Get out there and be comfortable in your own skin and let people see you. Because a campaign is part of what keeps a democracy healthy, because candidates learn."