On the morning of the New Hampshire primary, Ronald Reagan walked into Newt Gingrich’s campaign headquarters on a leash. The 3-year-old West Highland terrier strolled in with his owner, Dan Ferrante, a Gingrich volunteer in a U.S. Marines beanie who had just voted for Newt and was eager for news. “How we doing?” the Vietnam veteran asked one of the few volunteers in Gingrich’s spare storefront office on Elm Street in Manchester.
The humble HQ was strewn with the detritus of the campaign: deflating balloons, flags, stacks of signs and the requisite box of donuts to fuel the volunteers. There were paisley-trimmed Christmas stockings on the wall and a pig figurine plastered with a Post-it note that read, “STOP THE PORK.” The place was nearly empty; volunteers had scattered to follow Gingrich to a nearby polling spot. “I’m just really exhausted,” said John Ferrara, the Gingrich volunteer working the main desk, who described his first experience working for a presidential campaign as “mind-depleting.” Outside someone had altered a sidewalk chalk scrawling by a Ron Paul supporter, erasing the word NO so that the slogan read “RON PAUL: MORE WAR.”
A half-mile down the street, past a poster of Obama disfigured by a Hitler mustache, Mitt Romney’s Granite State headquarters was a relative hive of activity. More than a dozen volunteers worked a makeshift phone bank near bowls of candy and hand-lettered signs with messages like “MITT MAKES $EN$E” and “NEW HAMPSHIRE IS ROMNEY COUNTRY.” The front runner is working hard to keep it that way; a Romney staffer said the organization made 14,000 phone calls and knocked on 10,000 doors on Saturday alone.
Both Gingrich and Romney ventured down the street Tuesday morning for the obligatory photo op at a polling station in a Manchester elementary school. Out front, supporters of Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman hoisted signs and tried to outshout one another. “Join the Hunt!” Huntsman’s backers chanted. “Let’s go, Mitt!” Romney’s responded. “End the Fed!” declared the Paul boosters. Huntsman was scheduled to visit the school soon thereafter, and a jumbled mass of his young supporters streamed in and snapped photos of one another. The show of solidarity and organization underscored why Romney, Paul and Huntsman are poised for top-tier finishes Tuesday night.
Inside the building, the scene was calmer. A handful of volunteers manned registration desks, checking in voters and handing them each a poker chip – blue for Democrats, red for Republicans – that enabled them to enter the booths arrayed in the school gym to cast their votes. A little before noon, the gym was relatively empty. “I think it’s scaring some of the older people away,” one volunteer said of the frenzied scene outside.
But that passion seemed like it could have a positive effect. A few yards from the scrum of campaign signs, a young woman sat on a blanket, selling prints of her paintings for 75 cents apiece. The soles of her feet were black. Part of the Occupy New Hampshire movement that has a been a fixture at rallies all week, she declined to give her name, preferring to identify herself as “part of the faceless mass of the 99%.” (She did, however, provide the name of the stuffed octopus perched on her shoulder: Occupy Octopi.)
She had come from the Occupy New Hampshire encampment a few miles down the road. Despite the movement’s presence throughout the state, the camp was nearly empty. A man named Jeffery Allen stood in the cold by a stack of questionnaires — Should the U.S. establish a Department of Peace? Should it choose “democracy” or “empire”? — that the group planned to distribute at polling places across New Hampshire. Another Occupier, Diane Soracco, sat on a bench nearby; it was her turn to guard the tents. Soracco, 43, seemed resigned to the movement’s near-term futility, saying she expected it would take at least 10 years to produce measurable results. “We’re not doing anything. It’s too unorganized,” Soracco said. “What exactly are we saying?” She sighed. “Every time I say that kind of stuff, they look at me like I have two heads.”
And yet the encampment has survived into the chill of January, longer than many expected. In faded green chalk, terms like liberty, autonomy and self–determination were still scrawled on the sidewalk near a giant banner bearing three boxes: one for the GOP, one for Democrats, one for We the People. Only the latter was checked. Under the sign, a man was reading aloud from a text that decried American oligarchs. His lack of an audience didn’t seem to change his intent to stay. As he spoke, flurries of snow began to fall.