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The Town-Hall style meeting is a long New England political tradition. And it received lots of attention four years ago as John McCain saved his candidacy by doing one town hall meeting after another after another. Barack Obama even did them in his long primary fight with Hillary Clinton four years ago. A town hall meeting evokes our greatest notions of civic engagement. Average citizens in small-towns in New Hampshire don’t just get to look at presidential candidates close up, they get to express their fears and aspirations to them, then grill them with tough questions.
But in the final days before the New Hampshire primary, these become major media events, and a potential hazard to any candidate.
The first thing you notice at any candidate's Town Hall meeting in Southern New Hampshire is the Ron Paul fans. They are braving the cold.
Seriously, Ron Paul fans seem to show themselves at every event, passing out literature. They already know that many of the people attending are not 100 per cent committed to that candidate.
And here are all the print and internet journalists, there were scores more with cameras and note pads lining the walls of the Pinkerton Academy.
Newt Gingrich arrived in style, after a long day of events. He has a pretty imposing security team that follows him from event to event.
And in these last days before the primaries, these Town Hall meetings are absolutely overflowing with citizens (and media).
Callista Gingrich stands right next to him, almost motionless for the entire two hours. Lots of nasty remarks have been made about her appearance and demeanor, but to me she seemed more fitted for the White House than her husband.
And it must be stressed, even though most of the people attending these events are committed to voting, not all of them support the candidate they are seeing, and many are open to switching.
So they pay extremely respectful attention while Gingrich compares himself to Reagan, and his strategy to Reagan, and tells them how he worked with Reagan.
The questions at most Town Halls are asked with a great deal of respect and deference, but they are often tougher and better than what the media will ask. People in Derry were really sceptical that America (with or without Gingrich) could handle its debt problems.
But because there are almost no follow-up questions, the candidates basically use them to pivot to other pre-fabricated bits of political rhetoric.
And New Hampshire voters are really anxious to test the candidates. There is no shortage of questions at these events.
Though tired, Gingrich got through without any major mistakes, and has started to make his leap over Rick Santorum in New Hampshire polls. But he still trails Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman.
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