Tourists cast their vote for New Hampshire


Related story: Thompson act wears thin

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Now it's the Granite State's turn.

The odd quadrennial dance that brings presidential candidates and the media elite to Iowa and New Hampshire has said goodbye to Des Moines and by night's end will be wheels up from Manchester. But as the New Hampshire campaign winds down, it has been a wild ride.

While the candidates are targeting the New Hampshire voter, there's a small but significant segment of visitors who are political tourists. Many come from such nearby states as Massachusetts and Maine, evidenced by a majority of out-of-state license plates at a Sunday morning Mike Huckabee "Chowderfest" rally in Windham or events later in the day for other White House hopefuls.

Larry and Janette Wilson live in New York but came up last weekend specifically to travel the campaign circuit with their cousins, Ruth Bartlett Albert and her husband, Dale. The Alberts are Republicans but undecided; the Wilsons resolved over the summer to go up just before the primary to see the candidates.

After all, Larry Wilson said before the Huckabee event, the Feb. 5 New York primary doesn't offer the same opportunity to see the candidates. Ruth Albert has lived in New Hampshire since the late 1950s but said she's just now beginning to appreciate the special advantage that Granite Staters enjoy.

"People in other states don't get the opportunity to see these people upfront and personal," said Albert, who is descended from the key Revolution-era figure Josiah Bartlett, who was the inspiration for "The West Wing" president Jed Bartlet -- without the extra T.

But what these campaign tourists see is nothing short of amazing, if you're into that sort of thing. In the compressed five-day campaign between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, there were dozens of events to choose from and most within a short drive of one another. It's not unusual for New Hampshire voters and visitors alike to schedule three or four events each day, going from one to another as time and traffic permits.

"It's a lot of pancake feeds and bars and restaurants and cafes," said Shawn Parry-Giles, a professor of communications at the University of Maryland who went up to New Hampshire to see the campaigning for herself. "Oftentimes, it's standing-room-only, but it shows the best of what it should be: candidates having to make their case in front of small groups of people."

Parry-Giles said it's jarring to go to a small middle school or gymnasium that has been taken over by a mountain of satellite trucks.

"Retail politics is still the name of the game in New Hampshire," said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "In New Hampshire, you have to have an old-fashioned campaign where you identify voters and get them out."

Carl Cameron, who covers politics for Fox News Channel and was a political reporter at Manchester's WMU, agreed.

"There's a tremendous amount of historical precedent and practice and routine in New Hampshire that becomes part of their lore, and they don't want it to change," he said.