-GILFORD, NH--If John McCain wins the New Hampshire primary Feb 1., he may well have his campaign volunteers to thank. The key to victory in New Hampshire, aside from television ads, is the degree to which candidates meet voters in person.
There are about 747,000 registered voters in the state, and they cast their ballots at a rate higher than the national average. Given New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status, candidates spend weeks there. If they try, they probably could meet a majority of the electorate.
McCain himself has spent 56 days in the state and will likely add another seven to the total before the primary.
For McCain's campaign organizers, ensuring that voters know where their candidate will be appearing--and convincing them to attend--is perhaps their most important task.
They rely on volunteers, many of them from colleges in Massachusetts, to spread the McCain gospel.
Early this past Saturday, four young men piled into two cars at a Mass Ave. gate leading to Harvard Law School, and began their two-hour trek to Gilford, a small town in the middle of New Hampshire.
Tom Snider, a third-year student at the Law School, organized the trip for several of Harvard's other McCain supporters.
During the two-hour car trip to Gilford, the conversation that passed between Snider and Daniel Choi, also a third-year Law School student, turned to why John McCain is the only presidential candidate for whom it is worth travelling to New Hampshire on a cold morning.
They certainly wouldn't do so for Vice President Al Gore '69, they said.
YAYA described Steve Forbes as, "kind of goofy-looking," and Snider observed further that Forbes' wealth does not jive well with his self-proclaimed status as a Washington outsider.
They also dismissed George W. Bush due to his being, "too green," alluding to his perceived lack of experience with government at the national level.
On the subject of McCain himself, Snider cited the candidate's "refreshing" approach to politics and campaigning. Choi said that when he first heard McCain speak, he was struck immediately by the senator's eloquence. McCain was "something special," and well-worth supporting.
Their loyalties solidified, the students arrived at Gilford at eleven in the morning.
Up to this point, these four students had no idea would be expected of them that day. The duration of their stay was even up in the air--they had all come prepared to stay over in Manchester's YMCA until Sunday.
The coordinator for McCain's New Hampshire's youth volunteers, Jenna Kolmeister, assigned each group of to a nearby town, both in the region around Lake Winnipesaukee, which weaves through the center of the state.
Kolmeister gave the students a pile of orange fliers, announcing that at 7:30 a.m, in just two days, the candidate himself would meet with residents in Gilford.
Snider, Choi, and the occupants of the second car, Adam Johnson '02, and Andy Kepple, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amhest, were instructed to distribute the bulletins.
The Pontiac traveled the short distance to Laconia. Snider and Choi began to walk the streets of the town.
Glancing at the fliers, several citizens said they were already John McCain supporters, which encouraged the volunteers.
Others, like Patty Moodie, were voters who said they greatly valued the chance to meet McCain.
Moodie hasn't yet decided whom she'll vote for Feb 1.
But McCain is a strong possibility. "I like the fact that he served in the military-- unlike Clinton."
Military service was one of McCain's strong selling-points, trumpeted by many of his supporters this winter morning.
But contrary to stereotype, not all New Hampshire residents expressed an enthusiasm for politics.
When given a flier, the proprietor of a shoe repair store in Laconia, a man calling himself Armondi told the students, "I'm nobody's supporter - I'm my own supporter."
After a morning's work in the freezing temperatures, the four volunteers drove an hour to Plymouth, where they would regroup with other McCain stumpers.
At Biederman's, a clean, cozy pub and deli, they relaxed with Kolmeister to watch McCain in that night's Republican candidate debate in Iowa.
Soon, the pub's small television room was filled with men, most of them advanced in age, all white-haired, wearing winter coats. Many coats bore the pin of a POW or of a military division.
The men--McCain's supporters and members of the New Hampshire's Veteran's Coalition---travel throughout New Hampshire to, in the words of McCain's deputy campaign manager Jimmy Martin, "tell stories about [McCain's]character, service, and how they shape and guide him."
One of the veterans, Orson Swindle, tells voters of the two years he spent sleeping next to John McCain in a Vietnam POW camp.
This convinced him that McCain had "a higher calling to the service of the country, not himself."
Swindle, who is also a commissioner with the Federal Trade Commission, is an effective proselytizer for McCain's cause, according to the citizens who stopped to chat with him.
After a brief stop at McCain's campaign headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire, the four headed home.
They were successful in what they accomplished. That town meeting they advertised drew about 200 people, despite the early hour.
Polls of New Hampshire residents show McCain and Bush neck-and-neck. A McCain win in the state could give him a boost--though the candidates have more than a month between New Hampshire and the next series of primaries.