Edwards Finds Loyal Fans at New Hampshire Primaries

While other journalists and reporters scrambled to get a spot on the makeshift platform in the Fairgrounds Junior High School gymnasium, Michael Lewis sat in the stands and ignored them. Most people in the New Hampshire gym were there to hear Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards speak for their various work assignments for different media outlets, but Lewis sat intently in anticipation of simply seeing and hearing Edwards.

Lewis, 28, left his job in New York on weekends and traveled to the Granite State to campaign for presidential hopeful John Edwards, spending his time knocking on doors and standing out in the harsh winter cold with campaign signs. He had no chance of personally knowing the estimated 500 people waiting in the gymnasium for Edwards to speak, but he spoke to everyone within earshot. Lewis shied away from the media, however.

“I work in the media, that’s all I can say,” he said in a low, quick voice, accenting his syllables with his eye movements. Lewis insisted that his career in sports media would be compromised if the public knew he was in that particular junior high gymnasium. His need for conversation, stimulated by numerous cups of coffee, interfered with his worries as he blurted out an assortment of facts about his life throughout the course of the hour.

Bart Childs, a freelance cameraman for NBC who made no attempt to hide his boredom and disdain for the political events of the day, stood in stark contrast to Lewis. Childs was covering the primaries for work, and said he has been for the past 26 years.

“This will be the last time [at the primaries]. It gets boring,” said Childs. He complained about the “preponderance of other stations and kiddy cameras,” which made his job more difficult this year than in the past.  Childs withdrew himself from politics, and could not imagine spending his free time at a rally.

Lewis, 28, never met Childs and refused to go near him on account of his television camera. Lewis threw his comments out to no one in particular as he turned in every direction, lined up flush against other people on the gymnasium bleachers. His puffy, olive green jacket did not allow for much mobility, but his bloodshot green eyes always managed to find a listener.

“Is he running late as usual?” Lewis asked one of Edwards’ campaign managers, a rushed southern woman. She paused mid-stride to face him with a confused look on her foundation-laden face. She sighed a slow “yeah” in her southern accent.

“I figured. I’m Michael. Are you one of us?” asked Lewis, smiling too hard from a morning infused with caffeine. The woman politely said her name was Chelsea, then smiled and briskly walked away.

Lewis grew up in North Carolina but lacked any hint of the woman’s unmistakable accent. With a shrug and that omnipresent smile, Lewis recalled thinking Edwards looked interesting in his old television campaign commercials. Lewis’s loyalties did not shift when he moved to Long Island and then to upstate New York.

Back in September, Lewis called the Manchester office of the Edwards campaign to volunteer. He rearranged his work schedule by “trading favors” in order to free his weekends for Edwards. A single man with no girlfriend or nearby family, work was his only obstacle.

“It’s a passion for politics and love of John Edwards,” said Lewis of why he spends his weekends traveling from one cold state to another to stand on corners and hold campaign signs in hopes that a wandering eye will take his attempts to heart. He boasted that last night he was outside canvassing in Rochester, where it was 30 degrees below freezing.

“I always wanted Edwards to be president. He has the best ideas, the best vision for America, the most charisma. He’s Clinton without the baggage,” explained Lewis.

He took it upon himself to influence as many people as possible and gain support for Edwards, a man he has never met despite all of his enthusiasm.

“A month ago [while campaigning] it was, ‘Hi, I’m from—’ and then closing doors. It’ll definitely be worth it in November,” said Lewis, who absolutely would not entertain thoughts of Edwards losing the 2004 presidential election.

“People didn’t think he could win until Iowa. All of this” — he waved his arms frantically – “is from Iowa. Two weeks ago, it was me and two other people. Amazing how momentum can carry all these people here.” Lewis estimated that he knocked on about 500 doors in the Granite State, and solemnly said that if three or four people change their mind and vote for Edwards, “It’s worth it.”

When Edwards’s campaign managers took the stage and led the crowd in cheers and chants, Lewis joined in. As the enthusiasm became almost tangible in the large room, Lewis turned and shouted to no one in particular and shouted, “I like this guy a lot!”

When the noise quieted down, he added, “But we spell out [Edwards’s] first and last name when we do it,” referring to his group of volunteers who stand outside and cheer for cars and the media.

While other people waved streamers and wore stickers that were handed out before Edwards arrived, Lewis brought two campaign signs taped together. He knew all of the cues to cheer and clap, constantly holding up his sign. At one point, Edwards nodded towards Lewis and smiled. Lewis’s face immediately lit up, then turned around to see if anyone else had noticed his moment.

When asked what he would say if he ever met the man he has devoted years of his life to, Lewis looked confused for the first time.

“I guess I would say, ‘John, my name is Michael Lewis. Since 1998 I’ve been watching you and helped you get elected.’”

“This is like the Super Bowl. After Tuesday it’s all decided,” said the sportswriter part of Lewis, content with his role as a John Edwards super-fan.

“I’d support Edwards if he ran against anyone except my mother,” said Lewis through his perpetual smile and wide, bloodshot eyes. While previously vehemently refusing to entertain the thought of Edwards losing, Lewis finally admitted that politics, like sports, involves a series of wins and losses, but the big game never truly ends.