MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Every four years out-of-state “political junkies” descend on New Hampshire aiming to glimpse US candidates for president, snap up campaign collectibles, and become smarter voters.
See that older man with the Mitt Romney For President baseball cap, the Mitt Romney For President sticker on his jacket, waving a Mitt Romney for President sign? He can’t vote for Romney in New Hampshire’s critical Tuesday primary.
The man, who declined to give his name, lives in Huntington, on New York’s Long Island, hours away, but made it to an early Saturday morning Romney rally in Derry, New Hampshire because “I’m a political junkie, gotta get my fix.”
Joe Tuozzola, 47, works at a media company in Connecticut but drove three and a half hours north to hear the Republican White House hopefuls criss-crossing New Hampshire ahead of its first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday.
“I come up here every four years to get a real view of the candidates, just to make sense of where they stand on the issues,” he said as he awaited former House speaker Newt Gingrich inside the packed “Don Quijote” restaurant here.
“In Connecticut, you don’t get to see them a lot. It’s the stopover between Boston and New York for gas,” said Tuozzola, a self-described Democratic voter.
His favorite road story? The night in 2008 when Democratic hopeful Bill Richardson withdrew from the race and invited him and his friends to share pizza with downcast volunteers at his campaign headquarters.
“He’s like, ‘come on in and have some pizza with me.’ So we sat at a table and talked baseball. A different, fun way to see a candidate,” he said.
Sitting next to him is another traveler, who proudly shows off his vintage campaign buttons — “President Nixon: Now More Than Ever,” “Go With Goldwater And Miller In ’64″ — which are common among repeat “political tourists.”
“Buttons are harder and harder to find,” he said of the name and campaign slogan pins typically pinned on people’s jackets.
“People are trading them. They horse-trade right in the parking lot” outside events “like a (Grateful) Dead show,” said Tuozzola, referring to the carnival atmosphere at the iconic rock band’s shows.
John Shortall, a 46-year-old stay-at-home-dad to two girls, 10 and 12, wants to see how Republicans candidates adjust after the Iowa caucuses, which had a higher number of Christian conservatives than New Hampshire, and court independents thought to decide US elections.
“I love seeing Iowa and how that translates to here. Independent voters decide the vote. I want to see how that (the caucus) plays out here on Tuesday. Iowa isn’t that predictive, I feel like New Hampshire is,” said Shortall.
Locals in this small northeastern state for the most part don’t seem to mind the outsiders — though the crush of media and other out-of-staters sometimes makes it harder for them to see or hear the candidates.
At a rally in a barn in Hollis, New Hampshire on Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum noted the number of out-of-staters and quipped he was surprised by “all these foreigners coming in here.”
“I’m going to do a little editing of the questions here. And the editing will be only people who have a New Hampshire’s driver’s license,” he said, to applause from a crowd that spilled well beyond the building.
Seeing Santorum, former US envoy to China Jon Huntsman, and ex-Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer hasn’t done much to dent Tuozzola’s Democratic leanings. “I’m going to vote for Obama, based on what I’ve seen,” he said.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.
Art by DonkeyHotey from Flickr