New Hampshire is Fantasy Camp For Political Junkies

Ben and Jerry for Bernie Sanders

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream founders Ben Cohen (left) and Jerry Greenfield prepare to dish out samples and voting advice at a Bernie Sanders campaign event in late 2019. (Photo by Darren Garnick)

There are two kinds of people in New Hampshire: those who love our first-in-the-nation primary tradition and those who cannot wait until next Wednesday, when presidential campaigns will stop emailing, texting, calling, ringing their doorbell, and stuffing their physical mailbox with political propaganda. Although I’m no fan of the marketing harassment either, I anxiously look forward to this moment every four years.

The primary purpose of the New Hampshire primary, of course, is to vote. But beyond that, it’s a free fantasy camp for political junkies who live anywhere. Unlike at the Democratic or Republican national conventions, where the speakers look like ants from the nosebleed seats, you’re sometimes close enough here to see the candidates perspire. During the 2012 primary, I saw Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry become a sweaty Rorschach test as the shape of the state of New Hampshire “miraculously” soaked through his shirt:

Texas Gov Rick Perry NH Sweatstain-2A

2016 Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry enthusiastically greets New Hampshire voters during a 4th of July parade.

For a close-up look at the sweat stain side-by-side with a map of New Hampshire for comparison, click here.

Since last summer, some leading 2020 Democrats have visited the Granite State more than 50 times. But if you live anywhere else besides Iowa, Nevada or South Carolina, you’d be lucky to see a presidential candidate in the flesh even once. Here are some compelling reasons to come crash the New Hampshire primary this weekend, even if you don’t consider yourself a political junkie:

EXPERIENCE HISTORY – More than a century ago, your ancestors may have seen Teddy Roosevelt’s train chug through town. Don’t you want to tell your grandchildren what drink you ordered when you saw billionaire Tom Steyer pop by Starbucks?

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS – During past primaries, Chuck Norris cradled my baby daughter and I heard Martin Sheen riff about “The West Wing.” This year, you might eat Bernie Sanders-themed ice cream with the original Ben and Jerry, or joke with Dave Chappelle about Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income plan.

SOUVENIR CAMPAIGN MERCH – Who DOESN’T want an Amy Klobuchar ice scraper or a  “Pups for Pete” Buttigieg dog collar? I still cherish my 2016 Jeb! Bush exclamation point sunglasses.

MASSACHUSETTS TIME MACHINE – If you want to reminisce about the Bill Weld or Deval Patrick administrations, both former governors are now aimlessly wandering around New Hampshire – and Joe Biden has taken former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. John Kerry out of mothballs, too. For a glimpse of future Bay State presidential candidates, Seth Moulton has endorsed Biden and Joe Kennedy III is now campaigning for his old law professor, Elizabeth Warren. (Even though most people naturally associate Mike Bloomberg with New York, he’s a Massachusetts native, too.)

ENDURANCE SPORTS WITH TULSI GABBARD – The Hawaiian congresswoman has already surfed with voters in frigid Hampton Beach waters, snowboarded at Cranmore Mountain, had a push-up contest with a voter, and ran a 5K in Manchester. Will “Ziplining With Tulsi” be next?


COSTUMED CHARACTERS – Manchester this week usually has the most costumed mascots north of Orlando. Grab your picture with the global warming polar bear, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pig, or even the grizzly Vermin Supreme, the perennial satirical candidate who wears a boot on his head and comes out of hibernation every four years.

AUTOGRAPH HUNTING – Some candidates are handing out signed copies of their books before they hit the $1 bargain bin. Back in 2008, John McCain signed my daughter’s baby bottle, and in 2012, Mitt Romney autographed a box of spaghetti for me at a pasta supper. Still waiting for the Smithsonian to call.

CRASHING “VICTORY” PARTIES – It doesn’t matter which candidate you support, it’s fun dropping by multiple campaign parties on election night. The concession speeches might be a downer, but there’s camaraderie watching the voting results stream in with other people who care.

While Americans in most other states enter raffle contests to grab a beer with Elizabeth Warren or have a burger with Pete Buttigieg, anyone who visits New Hampshire over the next few days has a chance to score one-on-one time (albeit brief) with nearly every 2020 presidential candidate.

enter to win pizza with pete

New Hampshire voters are lucky to be able to get one-on-one face time with presidential candidates without having to win the lottery.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary being first, but its privileged status is by no means guaranteed. There’s a growing chorus of critics calling for a more diverse state to replace the Granite State (and Iowa) next time. A rotating series of regional primaries just seems inevitable. Enjoy it while it lasts! 

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