MANCHESTER, N.H. — Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney each stepped into some primary day mayhem at a middle school here, with journalists and protesters creating such a mob that the candidates had to leave before talking to voters.
Gingrich was planning to speak Tuesday morning at a poll stop at Webster Elementary School, but he quickly realized it was out of the question.
When the former House speaker arrived, he was quickly swept into a wave of camera crews and other journalists numbering well over 100 — likely because most out-of-town journalists are staying in Manchester. He was also shouted down by a huge crowd of political opponents. Many of them bobbed Barack Obama signs overhead and chanted “Four more years! Four more years!”
Gingrich likened the scene to Mardi Gras, but “not nearly as much fun.” And he disparaged the activists: “This has become a country which has a small fringe that likes to chant. It allows them to avoid thinking. It’s a ritual that makes them feel secure, and that’s fine. It’s a great country.”
A little while later, a confident Romney stepped off his campaign bus to greet voters at the school but was immediately mobbed by the journalists. His supporters waved signs and chanted, “Go, Mitt, Go!”
“Oh, I hope that we do well,” Romney told reporters. “I note that if we get double the number of vote margins that we had in Iowa I’d feel terrific.”
Referring to the day’s big GOP vote, he said: “It’s very exciting, great weather; I hope the people of New Hampshire turn out. The entire nation is watching.”
Romney’s comment from Monday that he liked being able to “fire people” dogged him. As the candidate held up a baby, someone shouted repeatedly: “Are you going to fire the baby?” Romney did not respond.
The former Massachusetts governor was crushed by the media throng. His security officers rushed him and his wife, Ann, into an idling SUV, and they left without talking to voters.
Earlier at the Gingrich event, even the locals remarked on the intensity of the rowdiness.
“I’ve been here since 1988, and I’ve never seen this polling place like this,” said Steve Mathieu, an investment adviser from Manchester who was carrying a sign supporting Ron Paul. Mathieu said he spoke to activists from Pittsburgh, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina and Connecticut.
Another local voter, Clare Callaghan, turned out to stump for Obama to make a statement that the president carries “a lot more support out there than anybody realizes.” Callaghan never considered voting in the Republican primary, even to try to improve Obama’s chances by selecting a weaker GOP candidate. She said that the precinct always attracts “political tourists” every four years but that this year is extreme. “The energy seems to be coming from outside, as opposed to inside, the state,” she said.