'Primary Peepers' invade NH, including Rowan group

Paul 2012
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas reacts as the candidate approaches her outside a polling place in Nashua, N.H.,Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. (AP Photo / Stephan Savoia)

New Hampshire’s primary has, to some extent, felt anticlimactic, with Mitt Romney assumed to be headed to a solid victory here and the real battle over second place. Several candidates have spent at least parts of the past week in South Carolina, the state with the next contest.

Yet, crowds have been huge at retail campaign events, swollen by “primary peepers” from across the nation and the world looking to participate for entertainment and/or educational purposes.

Journalists – who have caused more than a few mob crushes themselves with their notepads, pens, cameras and other paraphernalia, plus their nosiness – have complained to each other that it is sometimes hard to find honest-to-goodness New Hampshire voters to interview at candidate events. People from Massachusetts to California and beyond, however, are everywhere. (They usually have interesting things to say, to be sure, but are irrelevant in terms of trying to go deeper on the thought processes of the primary voter.)

Never mind the bigger problem: candidates who want to win support pitching their messages to folks who won’t be able to vote for them until farther down the line, if at all. Former Pa Sen. Rick Santorum found the majority of people crammed into a barn in Hollis, NH the other day were tourists, so he welcomed them and joked that, if they didn’t mind, he’d like to take questions only from those with New Hampshire driver licenses.

Call this the year of the Political Tourist. Robin Abcarian and Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times wrote a great story about the phenomenon in today’s paper.

Among those outside a Jon Huntsman Jr. event in Nashua yesterday: a Swedish member of parliament who thought he might be a distant cousin of the candidate’s. I also ran into Kevin Sperling, 18, a freshman business management major from Rowan University in New Jersey.

“I like Gingrich, but I don’t think he can get elected,” Sperling said, speaking of the former House speaker. “Mitt Romney’s super PAC got him.” The big-spending committee, legally separate from the Romney campaign, salted the earth in Iowa with attacks on Gingrich for an ethics violation that hastened his departure from office, working with Nancy Pelosi on global warming and other conservative apostasies. His poll numbers collapsed.

“Mitt Romney speaks in a monotone all the time and he doesn’t believe what he says,” said Sperling, of Dayton, N.J. “The one who’s grown on me is Rick Santorum. He doesn’t flip flop around; like Ron Paul he sticks to his guns.” Not that he agrees with Santorum’s conservative take on social issues; he just gained a newfound respect for the guy.

Sperling loves politics, and he says he and his five fellow students have been lucky to see the primary up close, as opposed to on television like most Americans do. Six Rowan students are on the trip through Wednesday, led by Poli Sci Professor Bruce Caswell and James Gaymon, assistant provost for diversity, recruitment and retention.

The Rowan group has been blogging about the experience.