While no tumbleweed rolled in the background and their boots were noticeably lacking spurs, for a moment the competing posses looked ready to engage in a duel straight out of the Old West.
But the rivals kept their placards holstered as they crossed the street.
“There’s still time to come to the right side,” said Andrew J. Frank ’05, an Edwards supporter, to friendly laughter from both sides.
On the last weekend before the New Hampshire primary, volunteers from Harvard, the Northeast and beyond descended upon towns like this one to distribute materials and urge residents to vote for their respective candidates in tomorrow’s election.
Frank, president of the Harvard College Democrats, led a contingent of 40 Harvard students up north on Saturday.
They battled frigid temperatures and fierce winds to campaign for Sen. John R. Edwards, D-N.C., John F. Kerry, D-Mass., Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark and former Vermont Gov. Howard B. Dean.
For a day, students took refuge from exam period to experience New Hampshire’s bizarre political culture, which features a unique mix of volunteers motivated by their dedication to each candidate and residents inundated with literature and solicitations from the campaigns.
Brittani S. Head ’06, chair of Harvard Students for John Edwards, had little sympathy for the residents of Nashua as she dropped leaflets at doors along a side street here Saturday afternoon.
“If you’re going to have this much power—and these people have an ungodly amount of power—then I feel like you should have to suffer a little every four years,” Head said.
Legwork may go a long way toward swaying voters in this state, where independents—who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans here—are permitted to vote in tomorrow’s primary.
At campaign events across New Hampshire, that independent streak is visible among many of the attendees, who take their button and sticker-wearing seriously. Undecided voters will often decline to accept campaign paraphernalia until they are dead-set on a decision.
Others arrive at rallies already firmly committed to their candidate. One man drove up to a Clark appearance on Saturday morning with New Hampshire vanity license plates which bore the campaign slogan, “WES WING.”
The individual focus of the primary here is especially helpful to efforts like the Edwards campaign, which has grown from virtual obscurity to a competitive position in the field of seven Democratic candidates.
“The big problem when we came here was name recognition,” Head recalled of her earlier trips to New Hampshire. “They had Dean and Kerry, big Northeasterners, so we had to introduce everyone to John Edwards.”
Those introductions have come in the form of door-to-door canvassing, leafleting and phone calling, which will continue through the election tomorrow.
The Edwards campaign has encouraged volunteers, including the Harvard students who worked on Saturday, with motivational speeches painting the campaign in broad strokes—”This is a war of ideas”—and alluding frequently to Bill Clinton’s 1992 primary comeback.
But after hours of waving placards in the brutal cold, the greatest treat for the volunteers here came in the form of lunch: hot chili (a primary staple) and lasagna.
Outside, a van promoting the renegade campaign of Lyndon H. Larouche blared the candidate’s message.
“Lyndon Larouche has promised to get rid of the so-called neo-cons,” an announcer declared.
Across the street at the local pizzeria, one Nashua resident—a Republican—was compelled to talk back to the television overhead after a string of seemingly incessant political advertisements.
Back in the Edwards headquarters, a nourished group of devotees planned its afternoon activities with hopeful enthusiasm.
“A lot of people can come here without money, without name recognition and win,” Frank said.
—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.