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January 8, 2008

2 days in NH, part 6: The toadstool

(note: Up until this point, my posts have gone in chronological order. However, I'm skipping the Saturday morning "Ask Mitt Anything" event for now to focus on the hectic trip to Peterborough)Surreal is not a word often used to describe Peterborough, New Hampshire. An hour's drive away from anywhere, tucked in the foothills near Mount Monadnock with a town center that could probably fit comfortably inside the first floor of the Reg were it not for all the steeples, it looks like the set of “Our Town,” which might make sense considering this is where Thornton Wilder wrote it. Yet Saturday afternoon, surreal is about the only word that fits.We arrive at a coffee shop here an half hour early for John McCain’s town hall meeting and head inside to buy something in order to justify parking in their lot. At the register, they proudly display a glass-encased note from Rudy Giuliani praising them for the quality of their chocolate. It’s the first piece of Giuliani campaign literature I’ve seen that does not reference 9/11 in any way, and considering the circumstances, it might as well be written in Sumerian cuneiform. He apparently stumped in Peterborough not too long ago, but there are precious few signs of his candidacy now, here or anywhere. Down the hall from the coffee shop, in the same building, we stumble upon, of all things, an “Obama for America” headquarters. It’s nothing too fancy: one room, glass walls, lots of posterboard and a few computers.As we leave, a lady in her fifties stops to talk to us and then says, in all serious, “Ya know, Dennis Kucinich is here, too. Wouldn’t ya ratha see Dennis Ka-sinitch than John McCain?” The answer should be no. McCain is speaking soon and there’s already a crowd outside. The plan was to see the next president of the United States this weekend and he’s the only one left on the checklist. But rational thought always takes an early exit when the Ohio congressman is part of the equation and so we nod enthusiastically and run off to the Toadstool bookstore.On our way, we pass a Hillary Clinton honk-a-thon (what are they doing here?) and arrive at the Toadstool just as Kucinich is finishing up. There’s no real line to speak of, just a couple of diehard Kucinistas eagerly clutching their copies of The Courage to Survive and peppering the forgotten candidate with questions and praise. One gentlemen is decked out in a homemade “Kucinich–Paul ’08” sweatshirt, complete with their elfish grins and a ring of stars. The congressman deflects the notion of such a ticket but adds, “He and I are good friends.” As unlikely an alliance as it may seem, the two certainly share similar roles in their respective parties as outspoken critics of centrism. Finally, with the store nearly empty, I press to the front to shake his hand, vowing never to wash it again, lest the magic rub off. (This pledge lasts an hour and 45 minutes.). Kucinich is friendly, and speaks to his supporters not with a politician’s casual grace, but as an equal. And yet among his supporters, he does come off as a larger than life figure, because for a crowd engrossed in calls to impeach Cheney and institutionalize peace, it’s genuinely liberating to find an elected member of the federal government who agrees with them, point for point.Only in New Hampshire could four campaigns operate simultaneously in such proximity, in a town with as little clout as Peterborough. Parked outside is an old truck plastered with Kucinich stickers and signs and just down the road—holy smokes!—the Kucinich-mobile itself, with a copy of the constitution and Dennis’s face plastered on the side. The full experience is, to use the operative word, nothing short of surreal. The clock nearing 12, we quicken our pace, breezing past the Hillary honkers to the town house, the madness only just beginning.UPDATE: Here's a shot of the Kucinich-mobile. Note that the dog in the foreground is wearing an Obama sweater. Only in New Hampshire.