Groton Students Chase Candidates in New Hampshire

Every four years the state of New Hampshire’s diners, bowling alleys, and opera houses welcome the attention of the nation and the world as presidential hopefuls trek about the state practicing the art of retail politics in pursuit of their party’s presidential nomination. This year, nine Groton students jumped into the fray and chased candidates the way that climatologists in the plains chase tornadoes. Leaving Groton before dawn on Sunday, January 8, they boarded one of Groton’s red mini-buses and headed north. The first stop was Concord, New Hampshire, the site of the Meet the Press 9:00 a.m. debate. Having tried fruitlessly to get tickets to the debate in the days before the trip, they jumped in line anyway, attempting to charm their way into the Concord Center for the Arts, to no avail.

Undeterred, they took the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere on the streets of Concord. Outside the theater, the students were amazed at the carnival atmosphere. A dozen or so anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish rabbis were protesting the state of Israel, chanting and passing out flyers to anyone who would take one. The rabbis were standing next to a group of Jon Huntsman supporters, who had a couple of dozen Occupy Wall Streeters on the other side of them, who were attempting to out-chant the other groups. The OWS group even had a woman in a wedding dress, arm-in-arm with someone wearing a pig’s face and a billboard sporting the logo of a major bank. In the crowd was perennial candidate and performance artist Vermin Supreme. Hugh McGlade ’13 and Chris King ’13 were both spotted holding signs high for Jon Huntsman, and as a result our group was invited to head to Manchester, NH to watch the debate at Huntsman headquarters. Back on the bus, the group headed south to Manchester. Unable to quickly locate the Huntsman headquarters, the group found Newt Gingrich’s instead and were welcomed with open arms. The staffer in the office provided chairs, and the students were able to watch the remaining minutes of the debate. From there it was off to the Huntsman offices, where the students questioned a Huntsman staffer, a paid intern from St. Anselm College, about how he came to work for Huntsman. He started as the first and lone staffer, working the phone bank—recruiting voters and volunteers since the summer. Speaking in the midst of 20 or more volunteers who were readying themselves to spend the day calling New Hampshire voters, he noted that the Huntsman campaign had caught fire in recent weeks, and he was looking forward to South Carolina.

On the road again, the group had little time to cover the distance from Manchester to Rochester and the Rochester Opera House, where Mitt Romney was set to speak at 11:45 a.m. Arriving just at noon, the Opera House was packed; some students found seats in the balcony, but Hayward Berkowitz ’15 decided to see if he could find a seat on the main floor. Happy circumstances resulted as a Romney staffer escorted him to a seat front and center on the main floor.

Following Romney’s stump speech, Hayward was able to get former Governor Romney’s signature on his Economist magazine. Dominque Danco ’13 and Ellee Watson ’13 waited patiently for Governor Romney and were able to get a photograph with him. Outside the speech, other Groton students positioned themselves along the rope line to attempt to get Mr. Romney’s signature; unfortunately, a man in the crowd determined to get his baseball signed managed to box out Gates McGavick ’15 and Manjari Ganti ’14.

Next stop, the Lakes Region and Ron Paul speaking in Meredith, NH. On the way into the hotel, the group was greeted by the rabbis, who seemed to be on a similar trajectory through New Hampshire, and the CSPAN bus which they had seen at the Romney event too. Though initially turned away, as the ballroom was filled to capacity, a little wandering located a back stair and access to the ballroom from another direction. While there, the group ran into former New Hampshire legislator and past Groton parent, Betty Goodlander P ’02, ’05, ’08, who was there with friends and her daughter Christina ’02. Billy Hennrikus ’07 was also in the crowd, as he and a friend were also chasing candidates that day. Again the patience of Ellee and Dominique paid off as they were able to make their way through the crush of the crowd and snap a picture of themselves with Representative Paul before he was hurried out to a press briefing.

The final stop before the bells rang for Chapel was a house party for Jon Huntsman in Bedford, New Hampshire. The students were amazed that the doors to a private home were open to perfect strangers and a gaggle of reporters–print, radio, and television. Remarking about the event, the students to a one thought that they were in the middle of a movie about running for the presidency; the klieg lights, the press of reporters, the staffers stage managing Ambassador Huntsman’s exit from the house, the press of well-wishers, and the black SUVs that sped out of the driveway into the night all spoke to a cinematic effect.

Into the van and back to the Circle, the students arrived in time for the Epiphany of Lights service, with candidate lawn signs, buttons, stickers, and new understanding of what “retail politics” looks like up close.

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