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‘Old Granny D’ Just Keeps On Walking -- Into a Race for Senate

Times Staff Writer

The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate has no political experience and so little money that her campaign cannot afford lawn signs.

But at age 94, Doris “Granny D” Haddock does have an agenda -- ridding Washington of the influence of big-buck political contributors. “Can a candidate win without taking a dollar from special interests?” she recently asked a small gathering at the University of New Hampshire here. Her eyes narrowed and her voice grew determined: “Watch me.”

Haddock is best known for walking across America four years ago to support campaign-finance reform. That 3,225-mile jaunt won her praise from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former President Carter.

Haddock said she fell into her candidacy against the Republican incumbent, Sen. Judd Gregg. In July, days before the deadline for candidates to file, Democratic state Sen. Burt Cohen dropped out of the race when his campaign manager and most of his funds were reported missing. State Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan scrambled for a replacement but could find no one willing to oppose Gregg, who several polls say is the most popular political figure in New Hampshire.

Hours before the filing cutoff, someone mentioned Haddock. So, Sullivan had lunch with Haddock, who was home after running a 10-month voter registration project aimed at low-income women. She urged her to file candidacy papers.

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“We had one option, and that was to throw the long ball -- the Hail Mary pass,” Sullivan said. She denied that Haddock was being offered up as a political sacrifice. “It is never a [waste] when someone steps forward and talks about issues that are important,” Sullivan said. “That’s the whole point of living in a democracy.”

Haddock shrugs off questions about her age and lack of political experience. She is equally unperturbed by the gap between her campaign’s bank account (about $8,000 at last check) and the $2.6 million raised by her opponent. Haddock also dismisses a University of New Hampshire poll that showed 65% of likely Granite State voters supporting Gregg -- and 20% supporting her.

“He is a very good fellow,” she said. “But he is a participant in the kind of politics that no longer works for us -- taking millions from special interest groups.”

The Gregg campaign declined to comment on Haddock’s entry into the race.

One of the first things the Democratic hopeful did after declaring her candidacy was to officially change her name to Doris Granny D Haddock.

“I was pretty well-known throughout the country as Granny D, but on the ballot in New Hampshire it was going to say Doris Haddock -- and that did not mean anything to anyone,” she said.

She also engaged her 69-year-old son, Jim, as her chauffeur. The younger Haddock wears a “Go, Granny, Go!” T-shirt as he ferries his mother around about 80 hours a week in his rattletrap Mitsubishi Mirage. Jim Haddock says his mother catnaps in the car between campaign appearances.

Out on the trail, Doris Haddock delivers this message: Nearly all evils born in Washington -- lopsided tax policies, economic disparity, an ineffective healthcare system, even the war in Iraq -- are caused by “career politicians who are funded by the special interests that they are supposed to be regulating.”

“Old Granny D,” she told the recent gathering of about two dozen university students and a few faculty members, “has no strings attached to anyone who needs laws passed to help them.”

With a large feather atop her straw hat adding some height to her 4-foot-11 frame, Haddock peppered comments with personal anecdotes: recounting, for example, the 20 years she spent working in a shoe factory after she dropped out of college during the Depression so that she could support her family. She also talked about her experience with the inequities of the healthcare system during the 10 years she spent nursing her husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Haddock and her husband, Jim, fought against nuclear-weapons testing in Alaska. After her husband died in 1993, Haddock said, she experienced “an epiphany” that fueled her desire to clean up corruption in Washington.

“I have 16 great-grandchildren,” she explained. “I want them to be brought up in a democracy and in a place where people care. We are our brother’s keeper, and we keep forgetting that.”

Her philosophy evoked admiration from Jessica Durocher, a 20-year-old junior. “I was really impressed with her energy,” Durocher said. “She’s a pretty captivating person, and she seems to have a strong command of the issues.”

John Carroll, a professor of environmental conservation, said: “The arguments she is making and the positions she is taking are mind-opening.” As to whether Haddock can win, Carroll said, “She can win in a manner of speaking.”

But Dante Scala, a professor of politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., called Haddock’s candidacy “an ant versus elephant” campaign. “As far as we can tell, Granny D stepped in just because she thought Judd Gregg should have a race,” he said.

After Gregg failed to reply to Haddock’s request for a debate, said University of New Hampshire poll director Andy Smith, Haddock playfully suggested that maybe they could play Scrabble instead.

“I don’t think that kind of self-deprecating, old people’s joke reflects badly on her,” Smith said. “I think ... what she is doing is an act of courage that other people in the state did not have.”

Haddock tells audiences that she expects to win. But in private, she acknowledged that critics regarded her candidacy as simply another eccentric stunt: “They are saying, ‘If she lived out her term, she would be 101.’ They are saying, ‘This is big stuff, she can’t handle this stuff. What does she know about the Iraq war?’ ”

But Haddock countered, “Do you think I can’t do better than a Senate that has a deficit of $245 billion? A Senate that approved a needless war? There is no one in the Senate who is free to say what they think. But I say what I think.”


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