Reporter's notebook: New Hampshire residents praise Huntsman's campaign
HAMPSTEAD, N.H. — Douglas Martin, an auctioneer from nearby Sandown, said Jon Huntsman Jr. is a candidate who knows how to campaign in the Granite State.
"I hope Huntsman does well. He's shaken the hands of everyone in the state," Martin said.
Huntsman boasts that he's spent more time in New Hampshire than any other candidate for the 2012 GOP nomination, even skipping last week's caucus vote in Iowa.
Living in the first state in the nation to hold a presidential primary, New Hampshire residents pride themselves on taking the time to get to know who's in the race.
That means meeting candidates at events that range from town hall meetings that draw hundreds of people to a "house party," a gathering of neighbors in someone's living room.
"It's good to get a feel for them," Martin said.
Since moving to New Hampshire in the 1980s, Martin said he's shaken hands with every president, except the current occupant of the White House, President Barack Obama.
But New Hampshire residents learn quickly that once the state's primary votes are in, the candidates are out.
"After Tuesday," Martin said, "we won't see any of them again."
Huntsman's first campaign stop Sunday, at the Hampstead Bean Towne coffeehouse, attracted so many voters and journalists that the baristas finally gave up trying to sell java and let photographers position themselves on and behind the counter.
One local helped a reporter climb up alongside them for a better view across the crowd to where Huntsman was initially supposed to speak.
But Huntsman, who entered through a back door, made sure everyone who'd packed the place could see him by jumping up on the same counter. And he took his time making his way through the crowd after his brief speech, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
By the time Huntsman got to the front door, so many people were pressing to get close to him that at least one reporter was being propelled outside without even touching the ground.
No doubt it was the kind of rock star reception that Huntsman had dreamed about during his short-lived career as a teenaged keybordist in the Utah band, "Wizard."
While "house parties" are typically held early in the race, when candidates are still trying to build a following, a Bedford couple opened the doors of their home to Huntsman and more than 200 guests early Sunday evening.
There were so many reporters and camera crews in the upscale neighborhood just outside Manchester that a Huntsman staffer repeatedly warned there wasn't going to be room for them in the house.
Sure enough, the low-key crowd filled not only the vaulted living room but spilled into the rest of the house's downstairs, leaving reporters struggling to hear Huntsman's speech and his answers to several questions.
Marie Lopez, a former Orem resident who moved to New Hampshire to be closer to her husband's family, said they were stuck in the kitchen even though they'd arrived more than an hour early to see Huntsman.
Lopez, though, had already made up her minds months ago to vote for Huntsman.
"It wasn't a tough choice. He was my governor in Utah," she said.
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