Politics as street theater

Politics is a spectator sport here on a New Hampshire primary day

While the candidates race around the state shaking hands, residents take to the streets with cameras to record the show, just as one would for a parade or a circus passing through town. "Can you see who they are talking with," asked one woman as she tried to see through the glass doors of a temporary NBC studio. "I wish they would let us in." "I'm just enjoying the vibe," said a woman named Jodi, who had a small, silver digital camera in her hand. She hadn't taken the time to vote yet, but she had made sure to wander through downtown Manchester to check out the VIPs. Over at the Merrimack Restaurant, caricatures of the candidates adorn the place mats on the tables. There is even a life-size mural of them on the outside of the restaurant. It all started in the 1980s, when Democratic candidate Gary Hart of Colorado rented office space above the restaurant, said Chris Kehas, a retired education professor who was helping out at the restaurant during the election season. Bill Clinton subsequently used the same space, Kehas said, pointing at photographs of the two politicians on the restaurant wall. When New York Sen. Hilary Clinton walked into the restaurant during the current campaign, the staff told her: "This is Bill's house," Kehas said. Standing by a wall of photographs of former presidential hopefuls, he recalled how Bill Clinton has stood outside shaking hands on the snowy streets. Early on in the campaign a Republican from Chicago was using the upstairs rooms. "I can't even remember his name," said Kehas. The current occupant is Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, who is trailing in the polls. The restaurant has become an institution, Kehas said. Pollsters and reporters work at the tables. Candidates and other politicians who are stumping for them have been known to wander through and shake hands. Outside, several dozen campaign signs were stuck in the melting snow and reporters quizzed passersby. A man wearing a three-cornered hat made from tinfoil sat on the stairs of a nearby public building next to a sign for Kucinich. But the election wasn't on his mind. "It's to protect against radiation," he told puzzled pedestrians. "It's a statement about how harmful the environment has become."