Our newest political correspondent spends Super Bowl Sunday with the Republicans who want to be president.
Editor's Note: You might know Bun B as the Texas–based rapper, professor, and activist who's one half of the legendary Houston duo UGK. He's also VICE's newest political correspondent, reporting on the ground from the campaign trail of the strangest presidential election in recent memory.
New Hampshire. The Granite State. Home of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales and the nation's laxest seatbelt laws. And occasionally, Mitt Romney's family. And one of the—if not the—whitest place in America. It also happens to be the first place in the United States where registered voters get to select their respective party candidate in a presidential primary. The Iowa caucuses are actually where the first votes are cast, and where the first rumblings about "who likes who" begin. But that process is some whole other shit that quite honestly I couldn't explain to you if you had a gun to my head.
The primaries, on the other hand, are good old fashioned American voting. Step in the booth, close the curtain, and make your choice. And New Hampshire residents (New Hampshirians?) take it super fucking seriously. So the candidates in turn take New Hampshire super fucking seriously. And the media goes wherever the candidates go, so they too get amped the fuck up about it. And I'm here to cover the whole fucking circus.
Granted, I don't come from the world of journalism, but I am a writer and a lot of the issues I address in my songs are in line with the issues we expect the future commander in chief to care about. Now that doesn't make me a journalist or anything like that. I understand and respect journalism. I admire reporters who are devoted to their jobs. So I'm not here to belittle them or their profession by any means. I'm just here to observe it all, the good and the bad of everything. The speeches. The handshakes. The kissing of babies. The kissing of asses.
Our first stop Sunday is Cactus Jack's Grill & Watering Hole, in Manchester, which doesn't know whether or not it wants to be a Mexican restaurant or not. Three flags fly overhead. One of them is the Texas state flag, which makes no sense to me at all since I've never seen a cactus in Texas in my life. I'm not saying there aren't some near Waco, or near the border, but a cactus isn't distinctly Texan. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will stop by at some point and speak before the Super Bowl.
It's pretty packed inside, and I can't tell if the people are here for Christie or to watch the game. The Christie team is easy to spot, though, sticking out like sore thumbs in chinos and North Face jackets among the working-class New England people in their random sports gear. The scattered reporters and their impeccable, camera-ready hair are even easier to spot. Their glistening veneers light up the room better than the neon sign on the wall of a cactus wearing a ten-gallon hat. Again, I don't get the reference, but we are about as far from Texas in the continental United States as one can get, so I understand that their view of the rest of America might be slightly skewed. As the governor's state police protection rounds the bar for the 15th time and cameramen set up their tripods while their producers look for the best angles, I take a sip of my watermelon cilantro margarita and wait for the Big Man.
I talk to some of the staff working the bar, and most of them don't seem to care much about the circus that's been going on around them for the last few months. They're in the service industry, so their main concern is that it brings in business. One waitress told me it doesn't affect her one way or the other if a candidate comes in to the bar. As she said, she's just trying to pay her mortgage. But I wonder if she knows Christie's platform. I wonder if she agrees with his views. Hell, I wonder if she cares about politics at all. I also wonder if she did have concerns, would she be allowed to voice them? Or could she lose her job? If she expresses her political affiliation, will it cost her tips? These are the things I ponder while watching Seal sing in the Super Bowl pre-game show, and commentators wax poetic about Peyton Manning's swan song above a logo for Turkish Airlines and against a backdrop of the Golden Gate bridge on the TVs above the bar.
It's at this moment that Christie walks into Cactus Jack's, accompanied by Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland. For all the blustering that I've seen on TV, Christie is a much calmer and more subdued individual in person. He introduces himself as Chris to everyone inside, including me. None of the overbearing posturing he displays on camera is evident this afternoon. He's in retail politician mode, and he wears it well.
That's in sharp contrast to the next thing I see. An older white man walks in. He has a long, gray beard. He is soft-spoken, but confident. And he has a boot on his head. You read right: A boot. He calls himself Vermin Supreme, which is the best non-Wu-Tang simulator name ever created. He's apparently a regular on the New Hampshire political scene. He runs on a campaign of universal dental care and riding free ponies powered by zombies into the future. Interesting as fuck for sure. Meanwhile, a small circle of people makes its way around the bar with Christie at the center, while the media forms a larger circle around them. He then makes the rounds again, stopping at every table and group twice. Reporters follow behind and interview everyone he touches, asking how he smelled, how soft or hard his hands were, if they'll be posting their pictures with Christie on Facebook or Instagram, etc. Nothing about the issues. Nothing about their concerns. Interesting.
Our next stop is shorter. It's sold as Marco Rubio's Super Bowl watch party but it's far from it. For starters, there's only one fucking TV to be found in the whole building, which makes it hard for a room full of 300 people to watch a televised sporting event. It's basically Rubio on stage in what appears to be a gymnastics center or karate dojo, surrounded by press and supporters. Since his third place finish in Iowa, Rubio's momentum and coverage has increased substantially, and that's pretty clear here in New Hampshire. The venue is larger than Christie's, as is the crowd of supporters and press. Dozens of shutterbugs surround the stage fighting for pics of Rubio.
Rubio's handlers are also more intense. One guy dressed in black and smelling like authority is regulating the stage area in a hardbody style of doormanship I haven't seen since Suge Knight showed up at the Source Awards in NYC. They want no videographers on stage, only still photos. He tries to shut me down, but my VICE press pass stops him in his tracks like a smile from Medusa. I meet Jim, originally from Chicago. He's been in New Hampshire for 25-plus years and collects signatures of presidential candidates on two-dollar bills. I ask if he does this for all the candidates and he replies that he only gets signatures from the ones he likes. He takes his signed Rubio bill and adds it to a collection that includes Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
Rubio signs every poster and poses for every picture in typical political fashion. But he is slightly more approachable in person than I thought he would be. He engages with people. He maintains eye contact through every interaction and stays longer than his people would like. I know most of this is part of the show, but I still get the feeling that, if he wasn't a politician on the opposite side of everything I stand for, we'd make great drinking buddies.
Since there's only one TV and no liquor, we wrap up with Rubio and head back to our hotel to watch the big game. At check-in, we noticed Jeb Bush sitting in an SUV outside, so we knew we were in the right place. Upon returning to the hotel, we found ourselves invited to a Super Bowl viewing party hosted by the 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary Party, which is dedicated to making sure that the state continues to get the first presidential primary on the Republican side.
It is without question the quietest room I've ever been in where there was a sporting event playing on the TV and an open bar. Hell, scratch the TV part. Who's quiet at a party with an open bar? Well, Republican delegates. We are with the upper crust of the GOP, so the spread is A-1. I meet our host, Republican National Committee member Steve Duprey, a guy with a million dollar smile and probably the bank account to match. His warm and welcoming demeanor seems very genuine. As he leaves to entertain his guests, I scan the conference room and realize it's filled with some of the most powerful people in the Republican Party. How I got in here is anybody's guess, but I'm in this bitch so fuck it, let's mingle.
Most of the reporters here are still reeling from Iowa. A good meal, a stiff drink, and a football game is the perfect way to wind down. I watch Queen Bey rock the halftime show, while older white women quietly observe 20-plus black women shaking their asses in synchronicity. Meanwhile, Steve, the self-appointed "Secretary of Fun," continues to make us all feel at home.
As I make my way upstairs with a belly full of short rib and jasmine rice, I reminisce about my first day in New Hampshire. I'm enjoying the process and my access, but today was just the pre-game. Shit is about to get real. So let me smoke one and get some rest, because on Monday, we start early and end late.
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