Strangely Quiet, N.H. Waits For Primary Season

By Adam Reilly

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Mar. 16, 2011

Democratic presidential hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson stopped at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, N.H., in Sept. 2007. The diner's assistant GM says she's anxiously awaiting the business that will come when campaign season picks up this year. (AP)

 

BOSTON — With the New Hampshire presidential primary less than a year away, Manchester should be bustling. Every four years, New Hampshire — with its early presidential primary and swing-state status — gets to wield outsized influence on the presidential election. The candidates have to start making their pitches early in the game.
 
But right now, it’s relatively quiet. Would-be nominees have been reluctant to dive in and the Granite State is getting restless.
 
Robin Comstock, of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, says it’s a strange thing — and one with economic consequences for the state.

VIDEO: Greater Boston goes to Manchester. (Click for larger view)

“The primary cycles are almost like the seasons,” Comstock said. “We’re waiting for the onslaught, we’re waiting for the energy, we’re waiting for the buses to come rolling through. It’s not happened yet.”
 
In a typical election cycle, campaigns would already have been making regular visits for months, with Manchester businesses reaping the benefits.
 
“The economic impact is purchasing sandwiches at the delicatessens, having fine diners at the great restaurants, going to the theatre when they have a break,” Comstock said.
 
At the Red Arrow Diner, assistant general manager Andrea Sullivan says the 2008 primary sent business through the roof.
 
“People know the candidates are coming in so they come in to try to catch a glimpse. There are so many people coming behind the counter and trying to take pictures, you have people coming in holding their babies that want the candidates to hold their babies and they’re all over the place. It’s madness,” Sullivan said.
 
That madness should materialize as the primary gets closer. March has seen a definite up tick in activity, with visits from Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann. Still, WMUR.com Political Director James Pindell says the candidates have been unusually timid this time around.
 
“Eight years ago, Howard dean had already made 27 trips to the state, he had already hired a fourth person, he was already setting up an office. John Kerry: again, dozens of trips, he was already setting up office in Manchester,” Pindell said. “Now we’re in situation where have no major candidate really announcing that they’re gonna get in the race.”

Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, listens to a question during a meeting at Saint Anselm College in Manchester in Oct. 2007. (AP)

The reason, Pindell says, is that the current crop of Republican frontrunners are afraid to do anything that might give their opponents an opening.
 
“Now we’re playing this game of chicken, 'I don’t really want to get in unless you make me get in.' And a lot of that is driven by frontrunners — Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin if you take her seriously. They have name recognition, they have money, and they have no incentive to get this race going and allow themselves to get tripped up,” Pindell said.
 
Case in point: Tea Party favorite Bachmann’s embarrassing claim last weekend that the American Revolution started in New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts, which could derail her campaign before it starts.
 
It’s also possible that New Hampshire just isn’t going to matter as much as it has in the past. For example, if other Republicans decide Mitt Romney has the state sewn up, they could write it off altogether and focus their attention elsewhere.
 
But Pindell insists that won’t happen.  “You want to go after the frontrunner where they have to win. So the best way to knock out Mitt Romney is to make sure he comes in second in New Hampshire,” Pindell said.

Comstock agrees, saying New Hampshire’s unique brand of politics is just too enticing for candidates to pass up.
 
“What New Hampshire really means is that face to face contact, that handshake to handshake. There’s no place else that a candidate can have that experience,” Pindell said.
 
And judging from Manchester’s quiet streets, that experience can’t come soon enough.

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