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Catching up with the candidates

September 30, 2007|Christopher Reynolds


He's the New Hampshire secretary of state (, the man sworn to preserve the New Hampshire first-in-nation primary tradition (state law requires that it fall before any other state primary). In the scramble of states to vote earlier, Michigan has set a Jan. 15 date, so it seems New Hampshire's polling will have to be before then. But Gardner hasn't committed to a date yet. (Meanwhile, Wyoming has set a delegate-selection convention for Jan. 5. Iowa's caucuses have been set for Jan. 14; Nevada's for Jan. 19.) Amid so much jockeying, some of these dates could change.


The state's overall population, 1.3 million, matches the estimated number of uninsured motorists in Los Angeles County. Nearly all the campaign action is in half a dozen southern New Hampshire cities and towns. Each of those mentioned below is within 47 miles of the others, and it's common for candidates and candidate-chasers to hit three towns in a day.

Manchester (the state's biggest city with 107,000 residents) is a 19th century mill town whose mills closed in 1935, putting thousands of workers out of jobs. Ever since, the town has been struggling to refill all those old brick buildings along the Merrimack River. The job's not done -- if it were, candidates would have more trouble finding office space every four years -- but Manchester businesses have given America Velcro and the Segway scooter. During primary season, most candidates open headquarters downtown, and media and campaign folk fill the Radisson Hotel.

Concord, the state capital to the north, has a gold-domed statehouse, a busy Main Street, a Museum of New Hampshire History and the hallowed home of Franklin Pierce, the lone son of New Hampshire to attain the presidency.

Durham has the University of New Hampshire.

Nashua, near the state line, has about 87,000 residents and another main drag full of brick buildings.

Portsmouth has shipyards and a pleasant old district of narrow, crooked streets and touristy restaurants and retailers.


Several websites keep schedules of upcoming candidate events, and every significant candidate has a state office that you can call for same-day cancellations and additions -- which can pop up hourly in the closing weeks of the primary campaign. Among the best sources:; (click on "primary schedule"); and, which includes phone numbers and addresses for the candidates' New Hampshire headquarters.



New Hampshire's voters take their politics seriously. Their governor stands for reelection every two years. Their statehouse includes 424 legislators. If California had the same ratio of voters to legislators, we'd be sending about 14,000 officeholders to Sacramento every session. (Instead, we send 120.) New Hampshire is also where the Republican Party was born in the 1850s, and Republicans have long outnumbered Democrats here. But Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) narrowly beat President Bush here in 2004, and the governor is a Democrat. In December, Democrats took control of both chambers of the state legislature for the first time since 1874.


The average daily temperature range in Manchester is a low of 32 and a high of 61 in October, 24 and 50 in November, 12 and 37 in December, 5 and 32 in January.


Residents don't pay sales or income taxes ("Live free or die," say the license plates), and their government makes up some of the difference with turnpike tolls in Bedford, Merrimack, Hooksett, Hampton, Dover and Rochester. As you chase up and down Interstates 93, 95 and 293 and New Hampshire 3, 3A and 101, you'll be regularly fishing for quarters.


Too often, political operatives and members of the press love inside language and radiate self-importance. But most New Hampshire events, whether they're coffee-shop chats, town hall meetings or arena rallies, are free; reservations are requested but not required. They are staffed by workers and volunteers new at their tasks. Usually, they'll welcome you or leave unattended any door you want to enter, assuming that you're a local voter or a political professional. You may find it politic to don and doff certain campaign buttons and stickers as the day advances. But never pretend to be someone you're not, especially a member of the press -- it'll probably get you stuck in a cordoned corner with a bunch of cranky camera operators. By telling the truth, you're not only helping security staffers keep everybody safe, but you're also retaining the moral authority to complain later on, when campaign promises start wilting.


Dunkin' Donuts, born next door in Massachusetts, is massive in New Hampshire -- more than 200 outlets within 50 miles of Manchester, which means you're likely to pass at least two or three every time you drive from one town to another.

Campaigning in February, Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed that "the only thing I will try to do differently from my husband is not to make so many Dunkin' Donuts stops. . . Bill gained about 20 pounds in the New Hampshire primary, and I cannot afford that."


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