In New Hampshire, Every Handshake Counts

Jul 5, 2011

It's officially summer vacation time. But if you're a candidate running for president, you'll spend your summer shaking hands in early voting states. Here, a look at the required stops and must-see attractions in the first primary state, New Hampshire.

Up and at 'em, candidates — the campaign day in New Hampshire starts early. Those pancake breakfasts don't eat themselves.

On our tour this day, we're bringing along political scientist Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center; and Dick Charpentier, an honest-to-goodness New Hampshirite and volunteer Granite State ambassador.

The Friendly Diner

Our first stop is Portsmouth — that's PORTS-muth — home of The Friendly Toast diner.

The main objective of any campaign is to find a captive audience, and diners are perfect: the Red Arrow in Manchester, the Tilt'n Diner in Tilton.

The Friendly Toast makes a great backdrop, with its kitschy 1950s art on the tropical fruit-colored walls. But please, please, owner Melissa Jasper begs you, call in advance.

"Most of these things are not pleasant at all," she says. "They bring in a lot of press, and they take up a lot of space, and they bother customers and, you know, they act political. They don't have much to say, and they're doing a lot of photo-oping."

Jasper is just hoping for an excuse to toss out a candidate. So figure out who is paying the bill, tip well, and order something simple.

"It's always something safe and boring, always something non-messy," she says. "Nobody wants to get cheese or tomato sauce on their mustache."

Parade Etiquette

All right, candidates, let's move on. Next stop in a perfect politician's day in New Hampshire is a parade; let's try North Hampton. It's a short drive from Portsmouth, but Smith says so is everything in New Hampshire.

"Two-thirds of the population is concentrated into the lower southeast corner of the state, close to Massachusetts. So, you can reach two-thirds of the population within 45 minutes of Manchester," he says.

And even the remote areas aren't too far away. So start practicing the names, like "Winnipesaukee and Massabesic and Amoskeag," says Charpentier. "I suppose if you had some kind of an Indian background, it might help."

When it comes to parades, the smaller the town, the better — North Hampton spans only a couple of blocks. Michele Bachmann has already been here and showed off proper New Hampshire parade etiquette.

Peter Fillbrook, marching with his Cub Scout troop, describes it this way: "Play it cool. I wouldn't be riding in a car, I'd be walking with the crowd and waving."

You see, most people at a parade are not there for politics. Smith says you have to remember your real audience.

"Make sure you tell WMUR, which is the only TV station in the state, that you're going to be there," he says. "Even though this is a state which has retail politics, most people get their information about what's going on in politics from television."

A House Party

TV may get you votes, but to raise money and get endorsements, you do have to show up in person. So candidates, our final stop for the day is a famed New Hampshire house party.

We're going to the Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H., home to Doug and Stella Scamman. All the politically connected Republicans throw these parties, but the Scammans are a big endorsement. They hosted events for both President Bushes, Bob Dole and Dan Quayle.

Stella Scamman says it's important for candidates to relax a little when they go to a house party — and don't bring your whole campaign.

"One candidate came in one time with this huge, huge bus up our driveway that wiped out some of the branches on the tree," she says. "And we said, 'Come in the normal way — by foot.' "

That was Fred Thompson, by the way. There are other political dangers to campaigning on a farm, especially a farm with cows. Should you literally step in it while visiting, says Doug Scamman, "you smile and walk through the grass and let it wear off."

That's good advice for a lot of New Hampshire situations.

Playing The Game

OK, let's wrap this up, candidates, and head back to Manchester for a night of fundraising calls and cable TV interviews. I know that this doesn't always seem like the most dignified way to pick a president — an obstacle course filled with pancakes, cow pies and chili feeds. But, says Smith, get used to it.

"If you don't play that game, it's not so much that you're not going to reach the voters. It's that the press and people will talk about how you don't want to get out and meet real people. And it's the perception of not meeting real people that's more important than actually meeting voters."

Shaking a hand won't necessarily get you a vote. But not shaking a hand — that's the way to lose New Hampshire.

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