Tales from the Trail

Ron Paul meets mayhem at morning campaign stop

Tensions were high at Ron Paul’s first campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, today, a day before the state votes in its first-in-the-nation Republican primary. At a breakfast visit to Moe Joe’s Family Restaurant, few actual primary voters were in attendance. Instead, the restaurant was packed with a group of a hundred high school students from Franklin, Massachusetts (hometown of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown), out-of-state activists from the nonpartisan Americans Elect, more than a hundred journalists, fringe candidate Vermin Supreme, and a convertible with two people in pig costumes promoting the website www.taxmeat.com.

It proved a combustible mix for a tiny space. Prior to Paul’s arrival, a teacher from the Massachusetts high school dressed down about four dozen journalists as if they’d been caught shooting spitballs or smoking in the bathroom. “You’re going to ruin it for all these kids,” he shouted.

Television cameras on tripods and reporters standing in front of his breakfasting students would spoil their view of the Texas congressman when he arrived, the teacher said. He threatened to pack the kids back on their two buses and leave if the reporters didn’t heed his plea.

They didn’t. When Paul arrived he was swarmed by a group of nearly 30 television cameras and photographers. After spending 15 minutes trying to push his way through the media hordes to greet Massachusetts residents who weren’t old enough to vote anyway, Paul gave up and fled back to his black Chevrolet Suburbans, accompanied by a phalanx of aides and burly security men.

In the parking lot he was met by Vermin Supreme, a perennial fringe candidate who is running on a platform of mandatory tooth-brushing and ponies for all. Supreme, wearing multiple neckties and a rubber boot on his head, taunted Paul. “Ron Paul is a monster,” he shouted into his megaphone.

Santorum’s blinking problem

Insurgent Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum might have a blinking problem, according to an analysis by a research associate at the University of Minnesota.

Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist who writes the non-partisan Smart Politics blog, said that Santorum blinked at more than twice the rate of the rest of the Republican field during Saturday night’s ABC News presidential debate in Manchester.

’While research may not be settled regarding whether people who lie blink more often than those who tell the truth, potential voters are no doubt more at ease with a candidate who looks them straight in the eyes and does not pepper their speech with repetitive non-verbal tics,” Ostermeier wrote.

Gingrich sheds doubt on Romney’s business past

Newt Gingrich raised questions about Mitt Romney’s private sector past at two back-to-back debates over the weekend in New Hampshire, returning to an allegation he made last month that Mitt Romney made a fortune at Bain by “bankrupting companies and laying off employees.”

A new report by the New York Times, Gingrich said, showed that Bain, the private equity firm co-founded by Romney, had “looted” one particular company (although it turns out he was actually referring to a Reuters story, written by Andy Sullivan and Greg Roumeliotis, about Bain’s investment in a Kansas City steel mill).

At Saturday night’s debate, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Gingrich to address a new, “very scathing attack” by a pro-Gingrich Super PAC against Romney’s work at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded. The video, Stephanopoulos said, calls Romney’s “tenure ‘a story of greed’…saying that Bain made spectacular profits by ‘stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards.’”

162 New Hampshire visits later, Huntsman hopes for late surge

Jon Huntsman Jr. has dedicated his entire campaign to doing well in New Hampshire. That’s meant multiple visits to small places like the northern town of Littleton, pop. 6,000, where Huntsman appeared for a photo opportunity at the local diner.

Unfortunately for Huntsman there were only four people (reporters aside) at the restaurant when he arrived — and none of them knew he was coming. One couple waved off his approach, saying, “We’re from Vermont.”

The second couple, John and Arlyne Kimball, had attended a Huntsman event earlier in the campaign in the nearby town of Whitefield and were annoyed that Huntsman had interrupted Arlyne in the midst of a question there about the Federal Reserve.

RuPaul to Republicans — don’t be a drag

Drag queen RuPaul crashed New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary scene on Saturday to clear up a possible case of mistaken identity for voters who might not have been paying close attention.

Most would not mistake the notorious celebrity — singer, actor, reality TV star and the first drag queen supermodel — for Ron Paul, the crusty, 76-year-old Congressman and former obstetrician. But just in case…

“I am NOT Ron Paul, and I’m not running for President!” RuPaul exclaimed during a high-energy visit to the tiny Red Arrow Diner in downtown Manchester, which has hosted more than its fair share of celebrities and political luminaries. A large number of local gays and lesbians, as well as adoring fans of all stripes, came out for the occasion.

The question that left Newt Gingrich speechless — briefly — in New Hampshire

A young New Hampshire voter left Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, 68, speechless on Thursday night when he essentially confronted the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — and other older voters in the room — with their mortality.

“I’m curious what hope you can give America in these dire times,” the 22-year-old man asked. “I know that many people in this room are on their way out. I say that in a respectful way — that in maybe ten years a lot of these people in this room will have passed away.”

“Don’t try to defend that [comment] because this could get worse,” Gingrich said at a campaign event in Meredith as the crowd gasped, laughed and applauded the young voter’s remarks.

Santorum sees “harm” to children with same-sex parents

A Rick Santorum town hall meeting in New Hampshire turned heated on Thursday when the conservative candidate was asked to explain why he, personally, would be affected if same-sex marriages were legalized, and how his opposition squared with his long riff about the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The meeting ended with Santorum getting booed by much of the crowd in Concord, which included many college and high-school students, after suggesting that children raised by same-sex parents are being “harmed.”

“How does it affect you personally if two men or two women get married?” Santorum was asked at the College Convention 2012, to broad applause and cheers.

“Newtie” panders on local issues in New Hampshire

With less than a week until the New Hampshire primary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spent a full day campaigning in the state’s lightly populated North Country. While there he opened his stump speech by jumping into a local controversy over a proposed $1.1 billion plan to build a giant transmission line from the Canadian border to southern New Hampshire.

The plan, known as the Northern Pass, would connect a Quebec electricity producer with the population centers of southern New England. The plan is controversial in northern New Hampshire, which is heavily reliant on tourism, because it involves the construction of 120-foot-high towers through pristine parts of the White Mountain National Forest and surrounding forests.

“As I understand it the president has the ability to sign or not sign the document that authorizes the transmission from Quebec of energy,” Gingrich told voters in the town of Lancaster.  “I would not sign an authorization that would allow large towers that would destroy the scenic beauty of northern New Hampshire.”

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Romney quizzed by Occupy protesters at N.H. town hall meeting

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney got off to an awkward start back in New Hampshire on Wednesday when the first question he took at a town hall meeting was from an Occupy protester.

Fresh off his narrow win in Iowa, Romney was making his first campaign appearance ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10 when the questioner – who said he was from both the Occupy New Hampshire and Occupy Boston protest groups against economic inequality – raised his hand and asked a question about corporate greed.

“You have said that corporations are people, but in the last two years corporate profits have surged to record highs directly at the expense of wages,” the man said. “It seems that the U.S. is a great place to be a corporation, but increasingly a desperate place to live and work.”