Yesterday I decided, New England being the small place it is, that I would go to one New Hampshire primary event.
I had a few basic criteria. The first was that it not be a breakfast meeting (not a morning person, moi). The second was that it feature more than one candidate, ex-candidate, or future candidate. That made it a no-brainer to go to the Exeter High School rally starring the unusual duo of Mitt Romney and Chris Cristie.
The place was packed, and it wasn’t just with the press or the Occupiers, although they both were there in locust-like droves (the press quieter than the Occupiers, although more numerous). In fact, there were so many regular folks there that even though I arrived way ahead of time, I ended up in an overflow room rather than the one featuring the main event. We outliers were assured that Mitt and Chris would come in to personally address our gym crowd of several hundred, and that their speeches would be piped in (the audio, not the video).
Thus I missed seeing Romney’s sons, who were present at the main event. But because I was one of the first people turned away, I had a front row stand (no chairs, no seat) immediately behind the ropes that the advance men set up to clear a little square footage where the speakers were going to stand on a wooden box (not all that different from the proverbial soapbox) and address our crowd.
The people around me seemed happy to be there but calm and willing to wait. A very civilized group; even the Occupiers were willing to bide their time, although they milled around a bit restlessly in the back of the room.
And then the stars came in. I was about three feet from Romney and Christie with a completely unobstructed view, and if I were better at working my cell phone camera I’d have gotten a ton of photos and video too. But unfortunately I am not, so the following two will have to do (and in the Romney one I unfortunately caught what was probably his single most unattractive moment):
From my perch just a few feet from each man as they spoke, I observed that they look like themselves only different. Christie, for example, (how shall I put this delicately?) is heavier than I’d previously thought, and I already knew he was heavy. But maybe anyone would look heavier next to the slender Romney.
It was Romney who was most surprising. It’s often been remarked (by me, for example, here) that Romney is a handsome man who looks pretty good for his age. But now that I’ve seen him up-close and personal I would like to correct that: he looks better than his photos, and much younger. Except for the graying temples, he could pass for a man nearly half his age.
Is it clean-living (Romney the Mormon does not smoke or drink of even ingest coffee)? I don’t know, but whatever it is if he could bottle it he would make another gazillion dollars to add to his first fortune. What’s more, in this particular venue both men eschewed jackets for more casual wear, and thus it was possible to see that Romney is in great shape—and not just great shape for a 64-year-old man, either; great shape for anyone, although of a type more suited to the occupations of outfielder or runner or even dancer than linebacker or first baseman.
But enough of the pulchritude. Although the physicality was one of the first things I noticed (call me shallow, call me frivolous), the other thing I saw in their most-standard of campaign speeches was that both men seemed genuinely relaxed and happy (not surprising for Christie; surprising to me for Romney) and Romney was very energized. How he does this—or how any of the candidates do it, for that matter—with such a punishing schedule is a mystery to me. He did not seem like a windup doll or automaton, but a flesh and blood human who meant what he said. Make of that what you will.
Christie was more hard-hitting, of course, giving the hecklers a taste of their own medicine. But perhaps the best line of the evening (for me at least) was when Ann Romney said that after their campaign for the presidency in 2008 she told Mitt that never again would she be part of a presidential run. And he reminded her that she’d said something similar about having another child after each pregnancy. So, here she was.
[NOTE: In the photos, the woman in the black boots, jeans, and red sweater is Kelly Ayotte, Republican senator from New Hampshire. The other legs with the black boots and black pants, and then the gray sweater above, belong to Ann Romney, who looked almost as good as her husband. Almost, but not quite.
Here’s some local coverage of the event, with more about the speeches themselves. It states that the crowd was approximately 1000, although I believe that may have been just in the main room. But the estimate of the number of press was 100. I’d say both estimates were low.]