Doris Haddock

DURHAM, N.H. (WOMENSENEWS)–The Democratic candidate from New Hampshire for the U.S. Senate has a firm message.

Special interests, she contends, control virtually every aspect of economic and social policy. These powerful forces drive up health care costs and compel senior citizens to turn to Canada to purchase affordable medications, Doris Haddock maintains. Special interests also dominate U.S. foreign policy, Haddock said at a recent campaign appearance at the University of New Hampshire–“and there is no better example than the war in Iraq, a war for oil.”

The fact that she had only about a dozen listeners–and one of them was intently eating a quesadilla–was of little concern. “Twelve men once changed the world,” she reminded an audience comprised of students, several faculty members and her 69-year-old son, Jim–who serves as her de facto chauffeur, motoring her to up to 70 hours of campaign events per week in his battered old Mitsubishi Mirage.

Haddock is equally untroubled by the uphill nature of her battle to displace Republican Judd Gregg in Washington. Gregg is the most popular political figure in the Granite State, according to poll director Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Smith said Gregg’s 66 percent overall approval rating is almost matched by the 59 percent approval rating he earns from state Democrats.

In the most recent poll, taken in late July, 60 percent of respondents said they would vote for Gregg, and 20 percent supported Haddock, Smith said.

Gregg’s campaign chest bulges at around $2.6 million–a hefty sum in a state with just over 1 million residents. The last time she checked, Haddock had “oh, maybe about $8,000” in her campaign coffer. The campaign checkbook has climbed as high as $52,000, Jim Haddock said, “but we spent it as fast as it came in.”

The fact that at 94, she may be the oldest U.S. Senate candidate ever (Strom Thurmond was 93 when he won his last senate election) also does not strike Haddock as much of an issue. At 90, after all, she walked across the country–3,224 miles, she points out–to promote campaign finance reform legislation.

That foray won her plaudits from Republican Sen. John McCain and former President Jimmy Carter, among others. It also garnered wide recognition for her longtime nickname, “Granny D.” After she declared for the Senate, Haddock went to court to legally add “Granny D” to her name.

Granny D Jumps In

Doris “Granny D” Haddock came to her candidacy after the previous Democratic nominee abruptly dropped out of the race. Burt Cohen was forced to step down when his campaign manager departed along with most of his campaign cash. Most New Hampshire Democrats were loath to face the popular Republican incumbent, but Haddock jumped right in.

Dante Scala, a professor of political science at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., acknowledged the ant-vs.-elephant nature of Haddock’s campaign.

“If Judd Gregg were an unpopular incumbent, one could imagine that perhaps Granny D could spark some kind of fire by being a lightning rod for an anti-incumbent feeling,” he said. “But Gregg is well-liked here by Democrats as well as Republicans.”

But Haddock’s shoestring campaign cannot even afford bumper stickers or lawn signs, never mind mass distribution of the “Go, Granny Go!” T-shirt that Jim Haddock and others on her seven-person staff wear.

“She hasn’t really been on the radar screen up here,” Scala said. Nonetheless, he concedes: “On the stump, she is rather articulate. She doesn’t speak in the same cliches as your average candidate.”

Hammering Against Campaign Funders

At small gatherings, like her appearance at university, Haddock–who stands 4 feet, 11 inches tall–sometimes moves the lectern aside so she can be seen. She always wears a straw hat adored with a wild turkey feather and does not need glasses to read a prepared speech that hammers at her theme that things would be much better in this country “if our senators were not the paid puppets of the large interests who fund the campaigns.”

Haddock tells her supporters that Gregg has not responded to her invitation for a debate. She said the senator also did not reply when she suggested that instead of debating, maybe they could just play Scrabble and see who wins.

Haddock, a New Hampshire native, worked her way through three years of college, but dropped out to support her family during the Depression. She worked at a Manchester shoe factory for 20 years and nursed her husband through 10 years of Alzheimer’s disease–an illness that also afflicts her only daughter. She has 16 great-grandchildren.

If she is trounced by Gregg, she said, “So what? I’ll go back to being what I’ve always been, Granny D.” But, she noted, New Hampshire is famous for its cranky, unpredictable electorate: “I think I’ll win.”

Elizabeth Mehren is the New England bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.

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