MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Maybe it should have been a tip-off that the two 20-somethings were so overly excited to meet Scott Walker. Like dramatically excited. The young woman was literally bouncing with excitement. And the young man had a homemade sign declaring that the Republican governor should become president.
As Scott Walker smiled and put his arms around Tyler McFarland, 23, and Giselle Hart, 20, the sign flipped. Suddenly Walker was posing with a fake, game-show-style check made out to him from the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles Koch and David Koch, who plan to spend $889 million on the upcoming election.
The campaign photographer stopped snapping photos. Walker quickly moved on to the next group of people waiting to see him at Theo's Pizza Restaurant on Monday. A representative from 350 Action rushed toward reporters wanting to share why they staged this "action."
"Scott Walker is the worst on climate change," said Elaine Colligan, 21, a recent Georgetown University graduate who is a fellow with 350 Action, an environmental activist group that has been challenging presidential candidates from both parties on their climate change stances. "He's for being bought out by the Koch brothers."
It's not unusual for activists or protesters to stop by campaign events and put candidates on the spot — but Walker faced many more than usual during a campaign stop at Theo's late Monday morning ahead of an evening candidates' forum. Elizabeth Ropp, a 38-year-old acupuncturist who works in town, brought up the millions of dollars that defense contractors spend on elections and asked what he would do to ensure those companies did not unduly sway foreign policy decisions. (Walker shifted to talking about the need for a strong military and said he will soon roll out a foreign policy plan.) Emma Stein, a 20-year-old college student, asked about campaign finance reform. (There's a plan coming, he said.) Another 20-something asked about ending the revolving door between politics and lobbying. ("We'll certainly come out with a plan later this year," Walker said.)
Even those in the crowd who identified as proud Republicans often greeted the governor with a pointed question they wanted precisely answered. Again and again, Walker quoted passages from his standard stump speech — or told them to hold out for a policy plan. It was a different vibe from the crowds in Iowa, where the candidate has spent much more time campaigning.
As Walker had made it through the restaurant and outside to address a gaggle of reporters, a spokeswoman pulled him aside and held up her phone: "I want to make sure you saw a photo." They then huddled quietly with Walker's campaign manager to discuss.
As Walker answered questions from reporters in a parking lot, a man with a scraggly beard wearing a blacktop hat and carrying a white flower came up with a sign reading: "How can we make the world better." A spokeswoman tried to knock the sign away. A few campaign staffers stood in front of him. He jumped up on a rock. Later, as Walker did a one-on-one interview with a local reporter, the top-hat protester jumped on top of a car and started screaming: "Scott Walker will do anything to get elected! Because that's what politicians do!" (At one point, a woman confronted the man atop the car — who at that point was complaining about wasted food being thrown into dumpsters — and asked him if those were the same dumpsters used to disposed of aborted fetuses, launching a very different discussion.)
"It's like a full moon," Walker's campaign manager, Rick Wiley, muttered.
Walker has been criticized for not spending as much time in New Hampshire as other Republican candidates and for avoiding town halls here. Walker bragged on Monday that this is his 11th event in New Hampshire this year — but that's the same number of events he did in Iowa in just one weekend last month. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire has an open primary that independents are allowed to vote in, and the political tone is generally more moderate, especially on social issues. But Walker said he doesn't mind the difficult questions and gritty debate in New Hampshire, plus he has grown accustomed to protesters during his polarizing four years as governor in Wisconsin.
"Every state is different," Walker said. "The people in these early states take it totally seriously. They ask good questions — they don't have to be questions that are necessarily siding with me or for me or against me, I don't mind that."