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Posted: January 15, 2012 2:25 p.m.

Tagging along the campaign trail

Part of the joy of a presidential campaign is visiting different parts of the country. This past week was New Hampshire week. I’ve been to New Hampshire about a half-dozen times. It’s a beautiful state. Mountains, ocean, beautiful forests and normally snow this time of year. However, we were snowless.

Part of the joy of New Hampshire is that the state is relatively small physically, and the people are very interested in the process and the candidates. We held town halls and various “meet and greet,” and went to coffees. The town halls were overflowing. Standing room only in the back of the room was the norm.

Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, with approximately 110,000 people, was the hub of political activity. National news teams camped out in the hotels, local affiliate stations or at St. Anselm’s, a nearby college with a strong politics program. The Radisson hotel housed a lot of the media. This is where “Radio Row” was located. Dozens of national, local and syndicated radio shows held court, squeezed into rooms on the second floor above the atrium. Radio guests, speaking for various candidates, would spill out of the rooms and hang over the balcony.

It was common for a surrogate for one candidate to get up from talking and seconds later have a surrogate from another candidate’s team take the same seat. Most of the surrogates, while offering different opinions and perspectives, were cordial to one another.

The most memorable part of the stay might have been the back-to-back debates over the weekend. There was a debate at St. Anselm’s College at 9 p.m. on Saturday night. The following morning, also at 9, there was a debate at the Chubb Center for the Arts in Concord. This meant a late night and an early morning, making the campaign more like a forced march than an organized parade.

After every debate, there is a “spin room,” where the press gathers to get quotes and opinions of candidates, their staffs and surrogates. The various campaigns stand in different areas of the room, normally holding up a sign with the candidate’s name on it to make it easier for the press to determine who is where. When the candidates appear — and this is a rarity — they are swamped by reporters and cameras.

After Dad’s first debate at St. Anselm’s this summer, my sister Kathy and I served as spokespeople, fielding questions and providing our take on the debate. This time, I walked through the spin room out of curiosity, wanting to see who was talking about what. The memory that will stay in my mind when I think of the New Hampshire primary is of one of the surrogates basically screaming into the MSNBC camera. Politics might be serious — but seriously, screaming? 

We stayed in the city of Concord. The state capital, is a small city with a quaint main street, full of local shops and coffee shops, running right in front of the capital. A statue of Patrick Henry stands on the capitol grounds, reminding me that I was in a state whose slogan is “live free or die.” The people in this state hold these same convictions as Henry, the man who exclaimed, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” They believe in states’ rights, individual liberty and freedom.

The top three winners of the Republican presidential primary should have been no surprise. Mitt Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, who has been campaigning for over five years, came in first. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who is running for the third time and is more of a libertarian than a Republican, came in second, thanks to a large college population in the state. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman came in an almost-surprisingly strong third, until one remembers that he skipped Iowa and camped out in New Hampshire for six months, staking his entire campaign on the state. 

Running neck-and-neck for fourth and fifth were my dad and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. 

What will I remember most about New Hampshire? Possibly the winding roads with the stone walls running next to the edge, reminding me of revolutionary times, possibly glimpsing the ocean as we drove back from Rye. In retrospect, I think that I will remember the spin room and the screaming, a contrast to the stoic people of New Hampshire.

 

 

To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, visit www.creators.com.

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