Perhaps Charlie Gibson started this war when he asked Hillary Clinton about the "likeability issue" during the last Democratic debate. Her response to the suggestion that people simply like Barack Obama more resulted in her response that, "in 2000 we, unfortunately, ended up with a president who people said they wanted to have a beer with." And at Clinton's appearance at a high school last night, acting as though that issue was settled, she made very little attempt to charm and befriend the voters gathered before her, but instead fired off detailed policy and tough talk to people asking her questions about everything from the housing market to college costs.
This afternoon, speaking to voters outside the State House in Concord, Republican frontrunner John McCain took up the issue, alleging that a less-than-willing-personality has established his credibility and effectiveness in Congress. "I was not elected Miss Congeniality in the US Senate again this year, I'm happy to say," he grinned, poking at independent voters that they could vote for a tiara-wearing sissy like Obama, or a gloriously un-charming man like himself.
While Obama could have left Gibson's assessment to hang in chilly air surrounding tomorrow's vote, he instead made the case for likeability as a crucial element of Presidential effectiveness. This morning at a rally in Lebanon, near the Vermont border, Obama wore a broad white smile and professed the advantages of "walking into a room with a sunny disposition" He said that a key to working across the aisle is to start off with an agreeable manner," dismissing his disagreeable opponents on both tickets--namely Clinton and McCain--whose remarkable bipartisan work has happened in spite of their refusal to spread joy throughout the halls of congress.
In fact, while Obama was basking in his own charm, going practically Bobby McFerrin in front of his euphoric crowd, Hillary was tearing up speaking to voters across the state at a Portsmouth diner. "We are happy warriors for change," he said, as supporters were asking her how she could bear to get out of bed in the morning. "We are cheerful at the prospects of taking over our government."
One hopes that a presidential election will rise far above the popularity contests that most of us remember from student government elections in high school. In New Hampshire today, questions of likeability rose from a vague notion of downing a few Buds with a candidate to veritable questions of political science.
Check out HuffPost's comprehensive on-the-ground New Hampshire coverage here.