, Newburyport, MA


February 9, 2013

Presidential politics frozen in place


“Everybody is waiting to see what Hillary does,” says former state House member Jim Demers, who counts himself as Obama’s first New Hampshire supporter, carbon dating his allegiance to December 2006, when the Illinois senator came here on a book tour. “She could keep the race on hold for at least six months or maybe even a year. She has time to vacation, to rest up.”

Biden stirred speculation here when he invited scores of Democratic activists, many from New Hampshire, to his home at the Naval Observatory the night after he was sworn in for a second term to talk politics. He did not sound like a man planning to retire.

“You have two people with high profiles and long records, and so what they do is the first set of things that will be in play,” says Ned Helms, who was state co-chair of Obama’s campaign the last two elections and is looking for a candidate to support in his 12th New Hampshire primary. “Everything after that is the second chapter, but we haven’t written the first chapter yet.”

The result is a situation where the normal physics of politics is being displaced by a cryogenic episode. This phenomenon — freezing the political class at the moment it is itching to get moving — is rare in American politics. It happened in the 1952 political cycle, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower not only refused to indicate his intentions but also refused to say even whether he was a Republican or Democrat. It last occurred in 1992, when Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York struggled with whether to run right up to the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary.

Right now, much of New Hampshire is waiting for some sign from New York, where Clinton lives, or from the vice presidential mansion, where Biden is examining options and opportunities. If either or both send unmistakable signals that they plan to run, the presidential hopes of others may go into cold eclipse.

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