MANCHESTER, N. H. — Newt Gingrich has bright purple cheeks. Rick Santorum has a comb sticking out of his back pocket.
Jon Huntsman’s eyes are looking extremely red. Ron Paul’s son, Rand, the senator, is much shorter in person. And Mitt Romney, according to rope-line reports, has very soft hands — though probably not as big as the “enormous hands” of Mr. Santorum’s grandfather, whom the candidate invokes as a recurring parable (“Those hands dug freedom for me”).
This data emerged in recent days because the presidential campaign trail remains, for a few fleeting moments before Tuesday’s primary, up close and intimate — or intimate-ish. The candidate-consumer transaction remains sufficiently close-in so people can ask questions of the hopefuls and survey their mannerisms at varied events in drivable distances.
Early presidential voting has become a full-on amusement spectacle in America, where political hobbyists can buy T-shirts from licensed vendors and ask would-be presidents to hold a pose with them for several seconds while Grandma tries to figure out how to get this iPhone machine to take a picture (“Oh wait, that one didn’t come out either, Governor”).
It will not be like this again for a long time. After Tuesday, the campaign will enter the ether zone of media otherness, just another reality show where it will be next to impossible to approach Callista Gingrich and have her sign your copy of her children’s book, the one with Ellis the Elephant.
If campaigns are a feast, these last days before the New Hampshire primary are a smorgasbord of cotton candy, mixed nuts and red meat. What follows is a weekend sampling of the candidate’s offerings, beginning Friday and ending Sunday. (Rick Perry, who has not been campaigning in New Hampshire, is not included.)
The Paul Posse
Friday, 2 p.m., Hangar Rally for Representative Ron Paul of Texas, Nashua Airport, Nashua.
Before introducing candidate/Daddy Ron Paul at an airport rally, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, addressed a matter on everyone’s minds: his own hair.
He told of how a woman back home had recently grabbed him by his stiffly tousled mane. When he asked her what she was doing, she replied, “I just wanted to check to see if it was a toupee or not.”
It’s not clear why young Mr. Paul told this story Friday in Nashua, though perhaps to reinforce the Ron Paul campaign’s message of authenticity (“Hair’s real, so’s Dad”). Whatever, the crowd loved it — as they love everything Paul, especially Daddy Ron, who moseyed out in a professorial gray blazer a few minutes later to echoing screams. Supporters waved blue “Ron Paul” placards, flags and “peace” signs (actual printed signs, not two fingers).
In an insistent drawl, Daddy Paul hits his big notes early. “All I can think about is how freedom is popular,” he said, admiring the typical Paul Posse mix of “Occupy” types, (both pro and anti-Paul) military veterans, self-taught historians, skateboard hipsters and graying peaceniks. Mr. Paul stands mostly still at the lectern while his themes swing from his performance in Iowa to the wisdom of silver as a currency.
He is the slightly doddering teacher who’s been around forever, meanders through the hour and yet holds the class rapt. He rails against “them” — whom he characterizes as “the people who want to run our lives, police the world and spend us into bankruptcy.”
By a big margin, the Paul Posse is the most devoted and passionate of any candidate crowd. They are less “supporters” than followers.
“I came even though I have a special-needs dog at home,” explains Jackie Casey, of Nashua. The special-needs dog — a Shar-Pei named Tori — is very old, over 100 in people years. Tori is almost blind, suffers from anxiety attacks and requires a great deal of care.
And yet Ms. Casey, a former Army reservist who now works at a Dunkin’ Donuts, would not have missed this. “Ron Paul is the only one running for president who has not lied,” she said. Not like the rest of “them.”