And, as it turns out, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. is surprisingly calm after he’s been bitten by a goat.
The voters who attempt this feat during primary season — trying to meet every serious candidate, preferably more than once — are the earnest heart of this politics-obsessed state. They make New Hampshire what New Hampshire is: a place where the contest to lead a nation of 312 million takes on the intimacy of a junior high student council race.
But, during this chaotic primary system, even some of these people — the Platonic ideal of the American voter, close enough to look each candidate in the eye — are still struggling to make a choice.
And so, one night this week, Andy and Betsie Bridge decided they couldn’t make up their minds until they had gone to see former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) in the flesh.
For the third time.
“You never know. We could always change our minds,” Betsie said. She had been leaning toward Paul, but wanted to hear Gingrich go through his arguments again.
“Don’t you think you should go and hear him?” Andy said.
The Republican candidates’ long courtship of New Hampshire culminates on Tuesday with the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. Leading up to the primary, the major candidates have spent 229 days here, according to the New Hampshire TV station WMUR. Huntsman leads with 72.
Their events started with small coffees and dinners last winter and built to big, stage-managed rallies this week. By now, it’s easy to lose track of how many potential future presidents you’ve met.
“I’ve seen Rick Perry, I think, four times. Might have been five times,” said Spec Bowers, a New Hampshire state legislator (R) and innkeeper from Sunapee. “Rick Santorum, I saw him in a group of maybe half a dozen people. That’s probably a half-hour session. So, it’s like talking to your next-door neighbor.”
Bowers’ list went on. Former pizza executive Herman Cain. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), twice. Paul and Gingrich, at least three times apiece. And other candidates whom nobody’s heard of: the rare and hard-to-collect specimens who fill out the 2012 complete set.
“Well, there’s a guy who calls himself ‘Vermin Supreme,’” Bowers said. “He was dressed in some crazy costume. At first glance, you might think it’s a hat. Then you looked closely and you realized that it was a long boot that he wore on his head.”
“I’ve seen him at least three times,” Bowers said. Didn’t ever get a good sense of his platform.
Voters who get within touching distance see things that other people don’t. An unexpected bulk under that suit. Clunky thick-soled shoes. Wrinkles. And the irregular edges of an actual personality — revealed by raw fatigue or a rare sense that no one is watching.