Meet New Hampshire's Father-And-Son Political Junkies

Feb 11, 2020
Originally published on February 11, 2020 9:31 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So if you're a political junkie and you live in the state of New Hampshire, you can get a level of access to presidential candidates that other Americans just do not have. All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro is in the state on this primary day, and he brings us the story of a father and son taking full advantage of this opportunity.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When we showed up at the home of John and James Kelly in Concord, N.H., they had all the paraphernalia laid out - vintage campaign pins, autographed candidate memoirs. When James was a baby, more than one presidential candidate snuggled him. He's a bit past snuggling age now.

JAMES KELLY: I'm 14.

SHAPIRO: So you can't actually vote.

JAMES KELLY: I can't vote, but I can volunteer. I can try and get other people to vote.

SHAPIRO: John, did you get James interested in politics? Or was this something that came through school? Or how did this start?

JOHN KELLY: You can tell from the - some of the memorabilia that's mine that I've had an interest. When I was a kid, my dad took me to see Richard Nixon.

SHAPIRO: Oh, wow. What is this? A ticket to...

JOHN KELLY: A ticket to see Richard Nixon in 1972.

SHAPIRO: 1971 - wow.

JOHN KELLY: Or maybe '71.

SHAPIRO: '71, I think.

JOHN KELLY: I was much younger then. I was greatly impressed that I got to see Richard Nixon and Ronald McDonald.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN KELLY: And my dad was not actually a Richard Nixon fan, but he wanted me to have the experience, and he said, you know, you respect the office. So I've been interested in it a long time. And so I took James a few times four years ago and a few times eight years ago.

JAMES KELLY: And the cool thing about four or five years ago is we saw a lot of the Republicans, even though I think most of us would identify as Democratic-leaning. And that's important, we think, to keep our mind open to everyone.

SHAPIRO: And, you know, most people in most states in the U.S. don't have an opportunity to do this. How do you feel about the fact that you, as a person in New Hampshire, can just kind of go down the street and see a person who might be president?

JAMES KELLY: Well, we're super fortunate. But we're worried - because of the whole Iowa disaster - that this might be our last round.

SHAPIRO: Really? I mean, like, that's a real fear?

JAMES KELLY: It is.

SHAPIRO: John, what do you think? Like, this has been going on in your family now for three generations. Could this be the last generation that gets a chance to do it?

JOHN KELLY: This could be the last one. And it's a fear in the sense that we would lose out personally, but it might be better for America; it Might be better for democracy.

SHAPIRO: Shh - don't let anyone else in New Hampshire hear you say that.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: You could be ostracized by your neighbors.

JOHN KELLY: Well, maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: So what do you typically do when you go to a candidate event?

JAMES KELLY: My No. 1 goal, usually, is to get a handshake. And I like learning new things. And that's one of my favorite things about Andrew Yang, is we've seen him three or four times, and it seems like every time I see him, I learn something new.

SHAPIRO: Give me an example.

JAMES KELLY: The last time life expectancy declined was the Spanish flu of 1918, I think. So yeah, pretty obscure fact.

SHAPIRO: And of course, for the last few years in the U.S., it was going down. Although, recently, it inched back up a little.

JAMES KELLY: That's true.

SHAPIRO: It's unusual for a parent and child to have a shared hobby when that child is 14. How does it feel to be able to do this together as father and son?

JOHN KELLY: Well, I'm very grateful for that because it's fun to hang out with him, and it's fun to go to these events and have somebody to debrief with afterwards. He's got other hobbies that he just sort of pities my ignorance in.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN KELLY: He knows a lot about football. He's a very smart and enthusiastic football fan. But the joke in our family is that my favorite patriot is Thomas Paine.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: They've been to about two dozen events this year, and we joined them for the last Democratic town hall of this campaign, with Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

TULSI GABBARD: Thank you all for coming out tonight. It's great to be in Concord.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: But this isn't the end of James' involvement; he told me even though he's not old enough to vote this year, he'll be cheering on his candidate, Andrew Yang, today.

Are you going to be at school all day on Tuesday?

JAMES KELLY: I'm going to skip school to go hold signs.

SHAPIRO: Do your teachers understand that you're participating in democracy and that's an acceptable reason to miss school?

JAMES KELLY: Well, I haven't told them yet. But I hope they will.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Well, thanks for letting us spend the evening with you.

JOHN KELLY: Sure. Thank you.

JAMES KELLY: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: That was father and son, John and James Kelly of Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.