Up in remote, rugged lake country, amid peaceful white birch forest and frozen, spring-fed lakes teeming with trout, bass and pickerel, Bob Smith, 46, rises in darkness at 4 a.m. to slop his hogs and tune in the news.
"Jimmy Carter . . . A solid man for a sensitive job . . . A president we won't have to train," blares the radio. "What do we really know about these guys?" ask Smith, the town hardware store owner, porch-front philospher and father of five boys. "All we know is what they feed us over the radio or in the newspaper," he says.
He has yet to size up a presidential hopeful eye-to-eye, much less pump a candidate's clammy paw. "No candidate ever bothers to stop in Wakefield," says Smith, one of 2,500 residents in this windswept, largely Republican retirement community hard by the Maine border. Wakefield is counting the days until nearby Lake Winnipesaukee thaws and the migratory Bostonians flock, cash in hand, to unlick the summer cottages.
"You'd think at least one or two [candidates] would have showed up at the town hall, if they were really sincere," he said. "They all talk about wanting to get 'close to the American people.' Well, you don't find them as American as Wakefield. But we always seem to get left out."
Indeed, as the small army of glassy-eyed candidates on autopilot race madly about this lambchop-shaped state, begging, buying and hustling voter support in the final days before Tuesday's presidential primary, they barely blink as the campaign buses cough and sputter past hamlets like Wakefield, where residents consider themselves "political orphans," in the words of Nick Littlefield, 38, a newspaperman turned butcher.
Smith paused outside Littlefield's Meat Market and General Store Thursday afternoon long enough to tack his feet on the Welcome mat. "Excuse the smell," he said pushing in from the cold in a blue down vest to eye the well-marbled, $5.47 a pound tenderloin in the meat case, talk politics and tug at a beer with the butcher. "Been cleaning pigsties all day."
Many residents here who choose to eke out a living in New Hampshire's rural outback, far off the beaten political track, "work twice as hard for half as much," saim Smith. Turning up his Michelob, he fumed over government regulations that "kill the little man," and groused about Congress' rejection of a tax credit for the wood-burning stoves that warm houses in Wakefield by the hundreds.
It's no wonder, says Littlefield, that "people here don't see any real leaders to choose from. It's partly because the way these people campaign." He laughs, wiping his hands on a red apron. "They all promise to cut inflation. Can you imagine that? They all promise to deliver what they can't."
He shrugs. "After next Tuesday Wakefield and the rest of New Hampshire will be just one more cold spot of the United States that's forgotten by the politicians."
Smith, a burly ex-Navy machinist mate, would like to deliver his gripes to the candidates, but he doesn't have time, with 125 hogs to feed and a store to run, to drive his pickup to far away rallies. The closest the presidential hopefuls have come to Wakefield is Wolfeboro, 15 miles away, on the other side of the lake.
But deed down, Smith says he doesn't feel left out.
"How can you feel left out of anything when you've never been included?" he asks. "There's a strong feeling [in Wakefield] that we sit up here all by ourselves and every now and then the government declares us a poverty area. That's the epitome of our stature."
In the early 1960s, President Kennedy dispatched his poverty commission to investigate things here, an encounter Smith still smarts at to this day. "They sent down some guy to tell me I had a substandard house, a substandard car, a substandard family," he huffs. "I finally told the guy 'You s.o.b. Why don't you go back to Washington?' He wasn't nothing but a retired general with a fat retirement check and no place to spend it."
Wakefield's citizens may feel eclipsed in the current presidential primary but they have not entirely escaped notoriety down through the years. In the 1930s, the railroad chugged through town and rugged woodsmen did a booming business chopping the frozen lake into 11,000-pound ice cubes and shipping the blocks south to chill the beer and stock the barrooms of Boston.
Four years ago, reporters and television crews from around the world flocked here to the 100-acre homestead of William McCarthy, after the farmer noticed a curious three-foot hole in his frozen pound. After the alarmed farmer called in state officials to investigate, scientists took water samples that set a geiger counter clicking, though a second sampling failed to register. Three weeks later, McCarthy's dog died; the symptoms in the young, healthy German Shepherd appearing to match those of radiation sickness, according to McCarthy's wife.
Gov. Meldrim Thomson took personal charge of the investigation as rumors circulated that a Russian satellite or some object from outer space had crashed through the ice. No object was ever found.
Then there was the furor over police chief Michael Seneoal, who last year was sentenced to three years in the Carroll County House of Corrections after pleading guilty to charges of receiving stolen property, falsifying evidence and theft. A federal grand jury investigation grew out of the lone persistence of a young woman Roberta Weeks, an unwed mother who charged that the chief had regularly raped her for seven months, threatening to have her child taken by welfare authorities if she didn't cooperate.
The case of the strappling, six-foot police chief who had a penchant for cowboy boots and frisking female motorists tore the town apart, more than all the bickering in town history.
But scrapping and disagreement among citizens who must divide up such a small piece of the local economic pie is bound to happen, says Smith. "You put 50 chickens in a pen, and I guarantee you they're going to peck at each other," he said, heading for his pickup.
Backbiting aside, many citizens here feel nothing but contempt for outside politicians who have only made local problems worse, said Curnie De Bow, the town handyman. "People here just want to be independent from outsiders."