Motel managers here can't wait for this madness to end, as roomless reporters camp out on lobby couches, praying for a cancellation.
"Sure it's nice to say, 'Hi, Mr. Kennedy,' or 'Hi, Mr. Bush,'" said a Concord Ramada Inn assistant manager. "But I never want to live in a city again that has a state prison, a state hospital -- or a presidential primary every four years."
Voters like Ed White, a 61-year-old retired postal clerk who lives with his elderly mother in a green frame Victorian house on South Street, have found their own way to deal with the madness. White tells people what they want to hear. Whenever a canvasser for one of the presidential candidates calls him, he says he's for their man, "just to get them off the phone."
No one has tried to figure out the ratio of invaders to natives in New Hampshire this week, but anyone who hasn't brushed up against a genuine candidate for president, a volunteer on one of the campaign staffs or a member of the journalistic pack must be hiding.
"The voters are incredibly harassed," concedes Ellis Woodward, a Carter field coordinator, whose business it is to harass them.
The cool reception often afforded barnstorming candidates leaves politicians perplexed, staffs forlorn. "They don't stop and clap wildly; they're taciturn," Woodward said. "A lot of Georgians think something has bombed when it hasn't. As a Yankee, I must remind them that, in these parts, mild applause means ecstasy."
There's only one reason for all this anxiety. And Ed White understands.
"They all want to know if I've made a commitment, he sighed, padding to the door for yet another stranger. He wore slippers and a wool flannel shirt. t"People for Bush, Anderson, Carter, Kennedy, they've all come to the door. "I usually just shuffle it off and say, 'You have to be for everybody.'
"Of course, I'll probably vote for Reagan or someone like that. I want to read all the platforms before I decide."
Even though sophisticated polls place President Carter well ahead of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and rank George Bush in front of Ronald Reagan, students of New Hampshire ballot-box behavior say that voters like White make next Tuesday's presidential primary tough to call.
Unlike other towns farther south, where heavy concentrations of factory workers account for the preponderance of registered Democrats, Concord's 19,000 registered voters are mostly Republican. Democrats and Independents account for the rest.
From their tension-packed command centers on Main Street, campaign strategists keep tabs on Independents and fence-sitters like White -- jotting their responses on notecards, shuffling them in shoeboxes.
"Independents are the swing vote, for both Republicans and Democrats," says Carter-Mondale campaign staffer Maura Caroll, 23, a state representative from Concord, where the voting rolls are filled with state government employes and factory workers. "Everybody's after them. A lot of people say, 'I'll take the literature, but I can't say I'm voting for the president right now.' That's not a positive response but it's not negative either. People here consider themselves politically sophisticated, independent thinkers. Not that they're all undecided; many just don't want to say."
One thing is certain: a high-stakes game of political cat-and-mouse is afoot here, with cagey cats like Don Richards, press secretary for Rep. Kent Hance (D-Tex.), spending Washington's Birthday -- his government day off -- with dozens of other Carter volunteers, tromping the snow, braving Dobermans and disdain, to stalk mice like Ed White.
Richards rapped on one door and waited. And waited. And waited. He knew the woman was home. "I saw her through the front window," he said. "She was doing her needlework. Her dog was barking, but she still wouldn't answer the door."
Another woman told him she was "voting for Roosevelt."
Several voters decried the verbal abuse heaped daily on their doorsteps, one candidate upon the other. "What upsets me most is Mr. Kennedy's nasty talks on TV -- I just don't like the way he has been treating the president, all the castigations he's been throwing around," said South Street resident Lillian Christensen, 74, a registered Republican who was selected as a "New Hampshire state mother" for her efforts in community affairs. "I wish the candidates would behave more gentlemanly. Here we talk about raising our young people to be courteous, then see adults acting this way in public."
South Street leads south out of town, past three-story Victorians and colorful frame houses with porches and bay windows. The street cuts a neat, conservative swath through a predominantly Republican ward of 24,000 registered voters that helped send a Democrat to the state senate last election.
"The older residents are registered Republican because years ago, if you weren't, something was wrong with you," said Ward Councilman Lawrence J. Sullivan, 33, a Ford dealer service manager. "But many are independent at heart."
A Carter-Mondale telephone poll indicated that Lance Barry, a state employe who lives in a rambling white frame house on South Street, was solidly in the President's camp. Not so, his wife Nancy said, as sons Jason, 2, and Josh, 4, raced about the house, chicken pox notwithstanding. "We're 'still undecided," she said. "We don't like being pushed around."
Nor does Leslie Stewart, 58, an $8.25 tool-and-die maker who lives in the hills, 30 miles north, with his wife, his two grandchildren and his guns. "All we want is to be left alone," said the decorated 20-year Army veteran who is "into black powder."
"The thing that bothers me most is federal control . . . people interfering with my lifestyle," the registered Republican said.
Stewart chainsmokes Pall Malls, relishes rabbit casserole and drives a Ford van bumper-stickered "If Kennedy Wins, You Lose" -- an ever-popular slogan pioneered by Republican gunlovers decrying the gun bill Kennedy supports. Carterites snicker at the message.
No one escapes the sales pitch, not as long as time and money remain. Candidates and their families, zigzagging the state daily, rarely miss a hand to pump, shamelessly hawk their autographs to anyone who will stand still, deliver the same fervent spiel to factory workers, old folks, schoolchildren and empty chairs.
Each camp tries to outgun the others with canvassers and good cheer, sweet rolls and celebrity. Kennedy offers niece Caroline and wife Joan for coffees; Carter serves up sons Chip and Jack, Walter Mondale and singer Stephen Stills.
And every time voters turn on the radio, there's Ronald Reagan crowing about American foreign policy: "It's nice to be liked . . . but it's time America was respected . ." or Lyndon B. LaRouche, the Labor Party candidate running as a Democrat who sees plots against him behind every curtain, jockeying for air time to deliver yet another anti-marijuana message via rock-and-roll radio. "You can never tell how many 50s types are listening," said his press secretary.
Then there is unknown presidential candidate Richard Kay, William Calley's defense attorney during the My Lai massacre trial, who relies on wit to woo them: "If one more person comes up to me and says 'I'm going to vote for you,' I want the press to duly report that Richard Kay has doubled his support in the state of New Hampshire."
In the primary hustle, politicans find that old loyalties count for little. Indeed, Genevive Soule, a doctor's wife, registered Democrat and transplanted Bostonian who stumped for John Kennedy, hosted a wine and cheese reception for Caroline Kennedy Monday night.
But she still doesn't know if she'll vote for Teddy.