One of the benefits of living in the Northeast is that one can easily travel to New Hampshire before the state’s first-in-the-nation primary and take in the wares of the presidential candidates. This past weekend, a friend and former colleague from Congressional Quarterly joined me for our fourth quadrennial trek to the Granite State. We took in rallies for four candidates: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. Regretfully, the geographical layout of events ruled out seeing Jon Huntsman.
The crowds this time were not nearly as large as those drawn by Barack Obama in New Hampshire four years ago. But each of the Republican candidates that we saw drew capacity crowds, which probably were in the 300 to 500 range. Many in the audiences were “political tourists” like ourselves – from high school and college students from nearby states to veteran political voyeurs. When Santorum opened his rally by asking how many of those present were actually from New Hampshire, only about one third of the audience raised their hands.
That said, here are some general seat of the pants observations from the four rallies that were personally attended last weekend. There are no predictions for the primary tonight. We will all know soon enough who are the winners and losers in New Hampshire.
Best Organized: Mitt Romney
For his post-debate rally Sunday at the Rochester Opera House, Romney had a well-manned sign-in desk, a multi-person advance team and a large campaign bus that matched C-SPAN’s in size. No other candidate had such a visible display of organization and financial health.
Most Enthusiastic Supporters: Ron Paul
A large part of Ron Paul’s crowd Sunday at a resort on Lake Winnipesaukee was committed supporters who were boisterous in their support. At other rallies, it seemed that many of those in attendance were spectators who were there either to take in the event or evaluate the particular candidate. That was especially the case for Santorum, who was greeted by tepid applause when he arrived Saturday at the podium inside the Lawrence Barn in Hollis. He drew longer and louder applause when he departed.
Most Family Members on Stage: Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney made the greatest effort to showcase his family. Onstage behind him were his wife, who spoke briefly before her husband, along with several sons with their wives and offspring. Meanwhile, Paul was introduced at his rally by his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, while Newt Gingrich’s wife, Callista, stood quietly about three feet to the left of her husband throughout his lengthy speech and the question period that followed.
Best Dressed Candidate: Newt Gingrich
He dressed in a coat and yellow tie for his Sunday night rally at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, a sharp contrast from the Christopher Hitchens’ look he had exhibited in many previous appearances. The other candidates tended to dress down as has been the sartorial style much of this campaign. Santorum wore a blue sweater vest; Paul a blue sweater. And Romney showed up at his rally in a long-sleeved shirt and brown slacks (not the tight blue jeans that he has favored in many of his other appearances).
Most Punctual Candidate: Ron Paul
His rally began right on time. The other candidates tended to start 30 to 40 minutes late.
Shortest Q and A: Mitt Romney
Actually, he took no questions at all in his appearance in Rochester. The other three candidates made time for questions from the audience.