Activists bring spirit, others bring business plans, to GOP debate site

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MANCHESTER, NH – They lined the grassy entrance to St. Anselm College, home of the first GOP presidential forum, singing songs and carrying signs.

But instead of signs touting one of the 14 candidates slated to face off at Monday night’s Voters Issues Forum, a majority of the activists carried signs touting support for (or opposition to) various causes, such as raising the retirement age or declassifying 9/11 reports.

Two men even donned corn costumes, complete with green husks, to protest the practice of blending corn-produced ethanol with gasoline fuel.

These New Hampshire voters, however, could not get any closer to the candidates than the roadside college entrance. A heavy police presence made sure that those without proper credentials would not be allowed anywhere near the inner campus or the Dana Center for the Humanities, where the presidential campaign event was held.

There was, however, no shortage of energy and enthusiasm among those on the outside.

“Is it OK if I’m not quoted?”

While the corn men peaked people’s interest, a lead activist from their group dressed in street clothes busily handed out informational fliers. He spoke freely on the ethanol issue but declined to share his name.

“The subsidy for corn farmers to use their corn crops for ethanol was a good idea when it started out years ago,” he said. “But New Hampshire depends on snowmobiles and snow-blowers and it really hurts small engines.

“We think it should be phased out.”

The man shook his head when asked about the caucuses in Iowa, a state that produced about 2.4 billion bushels of corn on 13.2 million acres of land in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“That’s why we’re out here,” he said. “To educate New Hampshire.”


New Hampshire’s primary season attracts a vast array of interested parties. Want to promote a television news station? Demonstrate against ethanol? All are welcome.

“Anybody that needs a ride, send them my way.”

Others who set up shop outside Saint Anselm’s guarded entrance included Faley J. Harris, a North Hampton, New Hampshire, sales executive for Regal Limousine Service. Harris said he didn’t make the drive from the seacoast to promote political causes.

Instead, he came to promote his business.  Armed with a stack of business cards, Harris came to Monday’s debate hoping to hand his cards to campaign personnel — and possibly even the candidates themselves. Between 5 p.m. and the debate’s start-time, however, only two candidate vehicles passed through the entrance, those of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both riding in heavily-tinted SUVs.


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is somewhere inside this Chevy.

“I’m convinced – there’s gotta be a back entrance to this place,” Harris said.

Undeterred, Harris struck up a conversation with an anti-ethanol representative. The representative accepted Harris’s card and said he expected other anti-ethanol coalition members would need rides from Boston’s Logan International Airport as New Hampshire’s political season gets fully under way.

“He can mix with people like us,” said Harris, about the anti-ethanol representative dressed in plain clothes. “But if you’re dressed like the corn guys you’ve got to kind of stay over there.”

Harris pointed across Saint Anselm Drive at the corn-clad men, who stood steps away from members of, a group that rarely skips a Granite State political event and bills itself as being “united to stop the corruption of big money in politics.”

“You’ve got to change your evil ways.”

Inches away from them danced a lively musical group named the Leftist Marching Band, which declined to identify any specific party affiliation.  According to its mission statement, the band “supports some issues folks would call liberal” but “prefers to call them good causes.”

The group played nonstop as debate attendees drove onto campus. Songs included Santana’s “Evil Ways” and Barrett Strong’s “Money Money (That’s What I Want).”


New Hampshire presidential debates, the intersection of music and politics.

Meanwhile, the campaign volunteers who did stake out positions outside the college included supporters of Christie, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson. Rubio supporters claimed the intersection of Route 114 and Saint Anselm Drive, hoping to catch the eye of drivers heading up from points south. Several Carson supporters were spotted west of the school’s entrance, hoping to draw attention from drivers coming from Manchester.

By 6:45 p.m., just 15 minutes before the start of the debate, the roadside crowds began to filter out.

“I might go watch at a bar somewhere,” said Harris. “But it might not even be worth it. Donald (Trump) isn’t even here.”

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected]