Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Granite State Carves an Election-Centered Identity ; Every Four Years, Presidential Candidates Flood in, Boosting Business - and the Pride of Residents Who Assess Them

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Granite State Carves an Election-Centered Identity ; Every Four Years, Presidential Candidates Flood in, Boosting Business - and the Pride of Residents Who Assess Them

Article excerpt

Sit at the counter in the Chez Vachon diner long enough and you're almost guaranteed a handshake from a presidential candidate.

Wesley Clark has stopped by. So have Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman - though all are more likely to sip coffee and pose for pictures than to enjoy the house specials: pork pie and smothered fries.

It's good for business, says owner Paul Normand, but it can also be a drag: "They all have the same thing to say."

New Hampshire voters have a curious relationship with the presidential candidates and the money and attention that flow in every four years. They're proud to host the nation's first primary and bristle at suggestions that they're becoming less relevant as other states move up their primary dates.

But voters here are picky. They expect candidates to pose on dog sleds, hurl axes, and attend lobster bakes. But they'd better not repeat Lamar Alexander's mistake of importing the lobsters from Maine.

Boost for business - and the state ego

Whether you call it pride or arrogance, this bottom line is this: The Granite State's identity is wrapped up in the special role it plays in choosing the president.

"I love it," says Socrates Makris, who met two candidates this fall when they showed up at restaurants where he was eating dinner. "We help the nation figure out where we're going, and that way people don't think we're just a bunch of old farmers." Such chance encounters explain why as many as 1 in 10 voters here have met a candidate and why voter turnout rates are among the nation's highest.

And merchants love the boost in business, particularly here in Manchester, the state's largest city, where campaigns and reporters will camp out for two weeks before the Jan. 27 primary.

The Center of New Hampshire Holiday Inn is renovating its lobby and installing wireless internet access. Business this January will be twice as high as in off years, with most rooms booked four years in advance, says general manager R. Sean O'Kane. Neighboring restaurants - where such notables as Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw supplant regulars - are ordering extra cases of wine.

The biggest single winner is New Hampshire's lone commercial television station, WMUR. Its high-tech studio earned the nickname "the House that Forbes built" for the volume of TV ads purchased by candidate Steven Forbes during his 1996 presidential bid.

This time around, John Edwards alone spent $575,000 on 1,100 ads broadcast on the station as of Dec. 1 - and the heaviest blitzes haven't even begun yet, according to the University of Wisconsin's Advertising Project, which tracks campaign ad spending. …

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