Back in the auditorium, Gingrich, who is every bit the lecturer whose class you’d drop after shopping period, lulls the crowd to sleep with rambling answers to simple questions. “I will challenge President Obama to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition, with a timekeeper but no moderator,” he says at some point, apropos of nothing, drawing cautious applause from a crowd apparently unenthused by the prospect of listening to Gingrich speak for twenty-one solid hours. He leavens his proposal with a laugh line: “To be fair, I will concede in advance that he can use a TelePrompTer. After all, if you had to defend ObamaCare, wouldn’t you want to use a TelePrompTer?” The crowd laughs, seemingly out of politeness. Soon, the town hall concludes, an America-themed country song blares, and the remaining reporters race to tape-record Gingrich and/or interview people standing in the photo line. I offer a silent thanks that I’m not on an immediate deadline, because I have no idea what one would file about this event, other than, “It was what you would expect.” (Or, maybe it was “larger-than-expected,” which is what the Union Leader led with.)
Sunday, 9:30 PM: After the town hall, I swing by the Manchester Radisson to see if I can pick up some sources. The Radisson—the only hotel in downtown Manchester—is the de facto media hub for the New Hampshire primary. ABC News and the Associated Press have pitched massive tents on the front lawn, conference rooms have been given over to workspace and filing stations, and the lobby and bar are normally flush with familiar faces. I head to the bar, intent on decompressing and swapping stories with fellow journalists. I end up watching an MSNBC show about bicycle crashes and listening to a drunk TD Bank employee talk about how he’s voting for “Kennedy.” An hour later, I’m back home, too tired to lay any of the “groundwork” I had been planning to lay in order to make the next day more fruitful.
Monday, 12 PM: Oversleep. Head out to a Jon Huntsman meet-and-greet at a bakery in Dover. Miscalculate how long it’ll take me to get to Dover, and don’t arrive until the candidate (and, apparently, the goat) is long gone. As I later learn, this is not an uncommon experience for reporters on the primary trail. New Hampshire is a small and poorly-roaded state, and journalists are bound to get delayed or lost. I purchase a fig square for ninety cents, which sort of makes the hour-and-a-half drive worth it, though.
Monday, 2:45 PM: Arrive forty-five minutes early to see Rick Santorum— whose campaign is so disorganized that they can’t even afford a PA system and a microphone—give a perfunctory town hall at the American Legion in Somersworth. Journalists congregate on the sides and at the back of the hall, checking e-mail and exchanging greetings. As 3:30 approaches, comes, and goes, the place fills up: cameramen jostle to find space to set up; a CNN correspondent obliviously performs a loud stand-up interview in the middle of Santorum’s unamplified speech; two freelance reporters for The Daily (“the original tablet newspaper”) interview three adolescent boys who try their best to sound professional for the camera, and then immediately discuss the experience once the reporters zoom off in search of their next targets. “It’s like she was looking right through me,” one boy says. “Like she was focusing on a point there on the wall.”
Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman, is here, standing in the back of the room inconspicuously, prompting some observers to wonder whether he is a stealth Santorum supporter. He is not; he’s here with a network news team. His companions are approached by a gangly man with horn-rimmed glasses who skulks around these events hawking an anti-Democrat Dr. Seuss-style children’s book that he wrote. “Have you seen the book that I wrote?” he asks, before showing you a browser’s copy. “It’s dedicated to Glenn Beck.” A middle-aged man with a moustache is not impressed. “You can look at this if you want,” he tells me. I’ve seen it before, though. “Yeah, we’ve all seen it a thousand times,” he says.