Doucette, a 24-year season ticket holder, isn’t exaggerating.
Back when the Patriots were good, the three hours a week the team marched down the field in Foxboro was sacred, can’t-miss TV.
And candidates and campaigns knew it. Instead of speaking to voters in New Hampshire candidates used game time to do national media hits or call donors in other states.
But now the Patriots are just plain bad — a primetime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday notwithstanding. And the team’s 3-10 record — its worst since 1993 — isn’t just prompting pining for Tom Brady or challenging the idea of Bill Belichick’s genius. It’s altering campaign schedules, too.
“There are definitely cycles where it’s like, OK, clear Sunday afternoon,” Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chair, said. “It’s gotten so bad that the Pats are no longer clear-the-calendar events.”
As the Patriots take beating after once unfathomable beating, at least two candidates have already come off the sidelines. Ramaswamy and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) both campaigned during games, the former door-knocking in Londonderry late last month as the Patriots fell to the New York Giants, and the latter dropping in on businesses in Portsmouth during last Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Still, not everyone is willing to risk the wrath of Bob Kraft. Most of the higher-polling candidates have kept off the trail in New Hampshire during football Sundays, at least based on public schedules for Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a Cowboys fan — scoffed at the notion of campaigning against the team’s games, no matter how awful they are.
“No. I think the fans, even though they’re bad, still like to watch,” Christie said after a recent campaign event that very much was not during a Patriots game. “And I think if you try to campaign during the games, you’re asking for trouble.”
Christie barely made the last debate stage. But even he is faring better this fall than the Patriots. The former governor sits in third place on average in polls of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters. New England, meanwhile, ranks dead last in the AFC with just four games left in the regular season. On Sunday, the team was knocked out of playoff contention.
In Belichick (and now-benched quarterback Mac Jones, for that matter), New England no longer trusts. And lower-polling candidates are trying to capitalize on it.
Sending Ramaswamy door-knocking through a southern New Hampshire neighborhood during the Patriots’ game against the Giants last month was a calculated choice, his campaign advisers said. Voters are more likely to be home during a game, even if making them miss a touchdown risks losing a potential supporter.
It appeared to work out for Ramaswamy, who was seen in photos posted online chatting up a man clad in a long-sleeve “Do Your Job” (the Patriots’ motto) t-shirt that looked to be a relic from Brady’s heyday.
Katie Dolan, a spokesperson for Phillips’ campaign, said it’s “obviously a pro-con situation” to door-knock or hold events during a game. But when Phillips held a meet-and-greet in Portsmouth last Sunday as the Patriots kicked off against the Chargers, “we didn’t have any problems drawing a crowd,” she said.
Not long after, the Patriots were blown out at home.
Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire governor who’s acted as somewhat of a campaign sherpa for the presidential hopefuls trekking across his state, told POLITICO that campaigning during Patriots games is only acceptable when it isn’t overt.
“Sometimes you go to Market Basket, you sit outside and say ‘Hi’ to people. Well, no one goes to the grocery store during the game,” Sununu said. “A good place to do it is if you’re going to go to a brewery.”
Candidates have indeed been running that play for years. Days before the 2022 general election, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) followed up a reelection campaign rally with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in downtown Nashua by taking Klobuchar to the brewery up the street. They chatted with voters and knocked back beers as the Patriots’ game played on no less than four screens around the place.
During his first presidential run in 2016, Christie and then-Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas went to a sports bar during a game to do much the same. But Christie said that’s the one and only time he’s ever tried to take on the Patriots.
“I always ask ‘when are the Patriots games?’ And we don’t do it,” Christie told POLITICO after speaking to voters who packed into a Hampton BBQ joint to hear him on a recent Thursday night when the Patriots were not playing.
“You try to do something like this during a Patriots game,” he said, gesturing to the dining room behind him, and “you’ll be sitting here by yourself.”
Editor’s note: The author of this story is a Patriots fan — as much as it hurts right now.