Political tourists enjoy all the fun of the primary

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The Independent US

Overnight, the circus will have lifted its pegs and vanished and New Hampshire, which for five short days has indulged in its four-yearly orgy of political intrigue and suspense, will doubtless find itself oddly bereft. The media, the campaigns, the political tourists, the protesters will be gone. So too will Vermin Supreme.

It is no wonder that the small, mostly rural New England state fights so hard to hold on to its traditional role as launch pad for the state-by-state primary process that selects presidential nominees. It disproportionately influences the eventual outcome for both parties. And, Lord, do they have fun.

Everyone agrees, 2008 has been a blast. "This is clearly the most important election of my lifetime," said Lisa Thorne, 41, a public relations worker, who had skipped out of her downtown Manchester office on the eve of voting to see Republican John McCain at one last rally. And she is proud of her state. "People take the candidates to task, they are educated and they ask the right questions."

Mr McCain's crowd outside City Hall was not especially large, but, as always, it was entertainingly diverse. "Azerbaijanis for McCain", read one of the small forest of placards vying to be noticed by television cameras. "Irish for McCain" and right next to it: "Bomb Iran! Vote McCain!" Occasionally, cars honking for his libertarian Republican rival Ron Paul would drive noisily by.

Edward Anderson, 38, the bearer of the Iran sign, was getting some stick, of course. He had driven all the way from Connecticut to convey his message to the folks of New Hampshire and did not get it at all that the other McCain supporters here, a mostly quite moderate lot, did not share his destroy-Tehran sentiments. "Hey, what you mean? Of course!" he said. "You want Iran to have the nuclear bomb?"

Merely observing the scene were two other out-of-staters, Mark Fenn and Harold Janakas, who had ditched their jobs in neighbouring Massachusetts for the day just to be in Manchester. They drove up in the morning with the goal of seeing at least three candidates in the flesh: McCain, Giuliani and, of course, the overwhelming star attraction, Barack Obama.

"We have been planning this for four years," Mr Fenn admits. It was back in 2004 when he and Harold stood listening to Senator John Kerry accepting the Democratic nomination at the party convention in Boston that the pair of them said, "OK, that's it, in 2008 we are going to New Hampshire". True, Massachusetts has its own primary on 5 February, so do many other states, but it won't be the same.

Early last year, state tourism officials proposed actually marketing New Hampshire as a tourist destination during primary season. The idea was quashed, however, as being vaguely unseemly. Yet, hordes still came. In no other state are the candidates so accessible. Nor are you likely anywhere else to see a man with a boot planted upside down on his head blaring his political message through a bull-horn, inches from a quite unruffled McCain.

"Actually, it's a galosh," insists an aide to the gentleman named Vermin Supreme, who was on the ballot as a candidate.

Vermin is saying something about supporting the Iraq surge and thrusting his pelvis suggestively. As McCain passes by, he surely notices the rubber green hand protruding from Vermin's fly. Were you once allied with the Monster Raving Loony Party of Britain, he is asked? "You could say that, but I don't live with my mother. No disrespect to Screaming Lord Sutch," he replies without pause.

New Hampshire. Missing you already.