Tourists Flock To New Hampshire For Front Row Seat To Presidential Politics

Feb 5, 2016
Originally published on February 5, 2016 6:57 pm
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Our co-host, Robert Siegel, has been in New Hampshire all week with the other journalists, pundits and campaign staffers who descend on the state every four years, and he's been captivated by some of the other visitors.


I'm thinking of people like the Ryan family, of Dallas, Texas. I met Dann and Anna Ryan and their kids four years ago when we were all outside a barn where Rick Santorum was speaking to a standing-room only crowd. Dann's a lawyer. Anna used to work for Samsung in her native Korea. They weren't in New Hampshire to campaign. They weren't working, and they can't vote here. They were there to look, listen and learn, and their children took a lot of pictures. Like baseball fans who go to spring training, they came to see the game played up close, to know the players without a scorecard. Well, flash-forward to Tuesday morning of this week at Chris Christie's headquarters.

ANNA RYAN: Hello, Mr. Robert.

SIEGEL: Hello, how are you?

A. RYAN: So good to see you again.

SIEGEL: Here they are in New Hampshire again - Dann and Anna, daughter Chanel, who has now graduated from Harvard, younger daughter Channing, who is studying psychology there now, son Baron is a highly decorated Eagle Scout, and Anna's sister, Michelle Kim, is also here.

Anna was carrying a Christie sign.

SIEGEL: You're here to support Chris Christie?

A. RYAN: Actually, I like Donald Trump and Chris Christie.

SIEGEL: But what you really like is, you like coming here...

A. RYAN: I like coming here.

SIEGEL: ...To New Hampshire for the primary season.

A. RYAN: Yes, yes, yes.

SIEGEL: They go from one campaign event to another. This is a trip that the Ryan family makes as an educational and civic adventure.

DANN RYAN: We wanted the children to understand that these candidates are just human, and the best way to be a person of liberty is to understand that they are just like you. They can't command the system more than you can.

SIEGEL: There are other visitors to New Hampshire during primary season for whom the educational experience is more formal.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Over at the town hall, and the Cruz van that had the light-up signs kept driving past down the street.

SIEGEL: Our fellow hotel guests include 20 political science students from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. They're taking a month-long course on the New Hampshire primary. An internship with the campaign is included. I met William Seabrook, a senior from Milwaukee, sophomore Emma Whitford, from Madison, Wis., Eden Faure, a junior from Pasadena, and their professor, Dan Hofrenning.

DAN HOFRENNING: These students could've studied literature in the Caribbean or theater in London, but instead they've chosen to come to New Hampshire to study the primary, to experience it, to work in it.

SIEGEL: Well, how could the West End or Aruba compare to Manchester, N.H., in February?


SIEGEL: You feel you've made a wise choice?

WILLIAM SEABROOK: Absolutely. I mean, being a political science student, these people who are speaking are sort of - are like, the big stars.

SIEGEL: Emma, it's been a learning experience for you?

EMMA WHITFORD: Yeah, definitely. We're all political science majors for the most part and we've been studying the New Hampshire primary while we're here, and you finally get to live it. And so whether that's, like, three hours in the cold knocking doors talking to voters, you still get a rush every time you get to break through to one of them and tell them about your candidate.

SIEGEL: Eden, what for you has been a particular learning experience?

EDEN FAURE: I think for me it's been really interesting to see all the different candidates because I'm from California, and so none of the candidates ever come - except if they want money, they come to fundraise. So getting to see almost all the presidential candidates has been honestly incredible for me. Yesterday I came down for coffee, and I literally locked eyes with Ted Cruz right there.

SIEGEL: Right here, in the Comfort Inn?

FAURE: Right here in this room. Yes, in the Comfort Inn in Manchester.

ANN LUGBILL: Oh, it was fascinating.

SIEGEL: Ann Lugbill, a Cincinnati lawyer, came here back in December for five days. Not for credit - just for fun. She and her husband went to a Bernie Sanders rally, two Hillary Clinton events, a Republican candidates forum and three town halls with their governor, John Kasich, of Ohio.

LUGBILL: I had never met the governor before. I had never seen him in person. And the first event we went to, he was struggling to get his jacket off, talk at the same time, hold the microphone, and I ended up helping him take his jacket off and held it in my lap.


SIEGEL: This is a micro-tourism market. A few years ago, the state of New Hampshire actually considered a primary tourism campaign but then dismissed the idea as undignified. Not according to Ann Lugbill.

LUGBILL: I would do this again in a heartbeat. We got to see nice country, people were friendly, the food's great along the coast - you're getting fresh seafood - and you get to see people up front as they interacted with political leaders talking about issues that were of importance to them.

SIEGEL: A nice winter travel opportunity for anyone yearning to watch presidential politics on the retail level, and it comes just once every four years. In Manchester, N.H., this is Robert Siegel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.