Democracy you can taste — and smell

And a helping hand for Hillary
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  October 24, 2007

Just north of Massachusetts, where cheap liquor abounds and the highest point in New England mocks us from beyond the stratosphere, lies a magical land to which politicians flock, eager to roll up their sleeves, mingle with the working classes, and pretend, just for a moment, to be real people. Braving the wilds of high-school gymnasiums and town halls, shoveling down forkfuls of spaghetti at house parties and church socials, presidential hopefuls do their very barnstorming best to earn the votes of small-town Americans.

Ah, New Hampshire. Where the gloves come off and supper’s on.

For the price of a tank of gas and a local street map, you, too, could come face to face with Hillary or Mitt, shake hands with Barack or shake your fist at John (McCain, Edwards, take your pick). After all, the 2008 presidential hopefuls care about what makes you tick. At least, they want you to think so.

As the New Hampshire presidential primary approaches, politicians and Law & Order actors are making their way around the Granite State, hitting every diner and coffee shop that their trailblazing buses can find, trying to worm their way into the heads of voters. What issues are taxpayers really concerned about? Do Americans prefer an aggressive wartime military strategy to a cautiously optimistic one? What the fuck is a “bean supper”?

These are the mysteries that candidates are attempting to unravel as they make appearance after appearance after appearance in the hopes of winning a place on the presidential ticket. Want to find out what fate lies in store for Social Security or your kid’s education? Go to a New Hampshire political event and ask. Up there, the candidates have to answer.

The best part of this grassroots approach to politicking is that any Joe in a Pabst Blue Ribbon T-shirt can show up at political appearances in New Hampshire and launch a barrage of burning questions about whatever he pleases, and neither candidates nor their respective squadrons of plastic-faced handlers can bat an eyelash. After all, this is where it all begins, people! No matter if Redneck Ronnie’s pickup makes more grumbling noises than a Republican at a gay wedding or if Granny Lou’s sniffling and hocking drowns out a candidate’s pandering. Suck it up, candidates. These are the people you have to appease in order to get your name on the ’08 ballot. One miserable mouthful of pasta at a time.

A recent visit to the high school in Salem, New Hampshire, revealed that teenagers and octogenarians alike will cram themselves onto bleachers and folding chairs to watch Hillary Clinton speak. As the senator waxed patriotic about the future of American families, banners waved from the rafters — not star-spangled banners, mind you, but field-hockey and wrestling state-championship banners, white and blue and as musty as the promises of politicians. Clinton is a powerful public speaker. Her handshake? A little limp, Hill. Something to work on. Just a suggestion.

Want to get up close and personal with the people who are campaigning to be the next late-night-television punch line? Visit for a schedule of appearances.

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  Topics: This Just In , Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Election Campaigns,  More more >
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