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Retail politics

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

We’d traveled together to witness the world-famous contest firsthand.
The atmosphere was good-natured and low-key outside the 1855-built structure. New Hampshire was into its January thaw and care had to be taken after dark with snow piled beside pathways. Demarcation lines were strictly adhered to. “Watch the rope,” people were warned as they maneuvered for position. “Oh yeah, the rope,” they’d say upon seeing it, and turn back. The “rope” was a thin length of twine and despite the state’s motto “Live Free or Die,” it was as effective as any electronic fence.
Exeter has such deep roots in New England’s history that the alleged founding of the United States Republican Party there in 1853 is almost a recent event. That secret meeting of abolitionists in the Squamscott Hotel didn’t go anywhere. However, by 1860 the party was up and running when one its leading members came to visit his son Robert Todd Lincoln, a student at Phillips Exeter Academy.
One has to fast-forward a century for the next really important alleged event. On Sept. 3, 1965, two police officers and a youth said they saw a large strange craft in the sky with red pulsating lights. The “Incident at Exeter” is still up there on the Ufologists’ top-10 list. On Jan. 7, 2008, we had to make do with the “Straight Talk Express” for excitement.
Several supporters held aloft “Irish for McCain” posters, which gave me an edge over my colleagues from the Philippines, the Lebanon, Bangladesh and other far-flung places. A woman named Florence told me she had some Irish roots, but not enough to hold a poster. She made the pitch anyway. “I liked him eight years ago and I like him now,” she said of the winner of the 2000 primary over George W. Bush. “He’s the man to get the job done. And he’s not too old, thank you. I know I could run the country in 10 years’ time.”
“He’s younger than me,” said Warren who was standing within earshot with his wife Therese. He asked me if I’d heard of James Michael Curley, the mayor of Boston. I said I had. He was the inspiration for the novel and film “The Last Hurrah.”
“That’s right. You know, he’d ‘seed’ a crowd,” Warren said, referring to well-organized plants. An apparently distressed young woman, for example, would relate a tale of woe, and Curley, promising action, would dispatch his aides to her side to take the details.
“He was a great man,” he chuckled.
I asked Warren if he was Irish. “Well, I’m Scots Irish,” he said. “I’m real Irish,” Therese said, trumping her husband. “On both sides. My people came from Galway.”
In a state in which about 14 percent claims Irish ancestry (and which boasts towns called Londonderry and Derry) the quintessential Scots-Irishman McCain could always expect a fair hearing. And after stepping into the TV lights outside Exeter Town Hall, he affected the defiance of a Davy Crockett and the belligerence of an Andrew Jackson. Appearing small and almost frail against the backdrop of the town hall’s pillars, he promised “to go to the gates of hell to get Osama bin Laden.”

Merrimack Restaurant, Manchester
The former POW’s foreign policy came up hours earlier when Jehangir Khattak left his lunch table at the Merrimack Restaurant in Manchester to take questions on a Voice of America call-in show broadcast in Pakistan.
“People in the cities have television,” he said. “But not in the rural areas.” So Voice of America, the BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle are listened to avidly.
“They’re very interested in the election because they know change is coming,” Khattak told me. “John McCain will be the status quo with more strings attached to what Pakistan is getting.
“But with the Democrats there’s bound to be a shift in policy — a shift in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, which means Pakistan,” he said.
There’s likely to be an impact internally, too, he argued, as Pakistan’s democratic forces believe that a U.S. Democratic Party victory would be good for them.
Most of the callers to the show, he said, were ordinary people from the tribal regions that straddled the border with Afghanistan. One asked: “If there is a change of government in Washington, D.C., will we continue to receive bombs or will we receive some aid, too?”
Help towards development goes a long way in winning hearts and minds, but there are other concerns. Callers wanted to know if the people are respected or if they are looked down upon? Are they being used? And nobody complains, not even the religious parties, Khattak said, when hundreds of Taliban are killed by the Pakistan army, which itself has incurred huge casualties. But civilian deaths provide a boon to the extremists.
Back at the Merrimack Restaurant, Ari Kagan explained that foreign policy is one reason why the Russian

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