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It was nearly five o’clock in the evening as journalists cozied up to the woodwork at the Farm Bar and Grille in Manchester, New Hampshire for coffee, or something stronger, while outside cameramen broke down their tripods and lights that had been meant to capture a Ron DeSantis event.
The Republican presidential candidate and governor of Florida had suddenly dropped out of the race about an hour and a half earlier, and we sat confused, if not totally stunned by the news, while the former candidate’s supporters shuffled into a private room for what turned out to be the DeSantis campaign’s wake.
This is the third New Hampshire primary that I have covered as a political reporter and to say that this one has a different vibe, or maybe it’s a lack thereof, is the understatement of the election season.
This is a Granite State primary like no other.
The first sign that things had changed was a lack of signs as my little Mitsubishi Lancer tried to keep up with the New England drivers who apparently are of the understanding that they are in a Formula One race.
Did I somehow come up on the wrong weekend, I wondered, as I got some breakfast in a Derry diner with nary a political hat or T-shirt to be seen, and few conversations on the topic buzzing in the bacon-fragranced air.
Honestly, what was there to talk about?
President Biden is not only absent from New Hampshire, he’s not even on the ballot, the GOP debates were canceled, so one senses that this year one of the most storied dates on the American political calendar will simply be known as, well, Tuesday.
But on Sunday evening, the mood amongst the well-dressed but disappointed DeSantis supporters at the Farm, most in their 30s or 40s, was rather wistful as opposed to angry or morose.
I overheard one woman say, “This feels like a high school breakup.”
If so, the past week, since the Iowa caucus cut off DeSantis at the knees, has been the political equivalent of unreturned phone calls, angry texts and ultimately the admission that it just isn’t going to work out.
Had the governor conceded defeat, as tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy did, on that sub-zero night in West Des Moines, then Nikki Haley could have demanded a debate against Donald Trump in New Hampshire, after all, the former president indicated he might take the stage against the last candidate standing.
But that was not to be.
None of the excitement of Iowa, such as it was, has made its way back east, nobody is carefully opining on how the weather may impact the outcome, not that it matters to these people, they see two feet of snow and the best you get out of them is, “I see we got a bit a weathah.”
The closest thing to intrigue on the ground in the land of “live free or die” is whether Democrats will somehow put Haley over the top in the GOP primary, but this is an overblown and misunderstood point.
In fact, the deadline for Democrats to change their party to Republican or Undeclared in order to vote in the GOP race was October 6th, when Haley was polling at about 7 percent, and while maybe some liberals did just that, it was to stymie Trump, not to support Nikki.
No, for the Haley Hail Mary to get two feet in bounds with the ball she will have to do exactly what Trump did in 2016, bring out independents, but when you combine her softness with Republican voters and the DeSantis endorsement of Trump her prospects are noticeably dimming.
As were the cold New Hampshire skies on Sunday night.
The evening wound down at the Farm with the disciples of DeSantis making their exits exhibiting, I think, a well-deserved pride at having tried to stem the tide away from the Biden-Trump rematch dreaded by so many Americans.
But the good fight had been fought and lost.
A few of us ventured to a new spot, to watch the football game, and talk a little shop.
Somewhere around the second quarter of the Chiefs match up with the Bills a smiling and sharply-scarved Andrew Yang walked in.
“Hey Andrew,” we all said in an almost chorus.
“Hi,” he replied, “I’m looking for a place with the sound on for the game for the team,” by which he presumably meant Democrat Dean Phillips’ campaign team.
Yang has been pushing hard for the longshot Biden challenger, almost like a de facto running mate.
We all decided to brave the elements and find a place with the sound on, but out of the corner of my eye I spotted my little red car and the prospect of a warm hotel room, and so I waived my adieu.
As I watched them wander off in the freezing, empty streets, loaded with darkness, it felt for all the world like it was just another plain old, average Sunday night in New Hampshire.
The 2024 primary season appears to be meeting its quiet and unremarkable end, and the dawn of the general election may be almost upon us.