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Why the New Hampshire Primary Is an Elaborate Reality Show Designed for National Media

Media create the storyline, choosing which timeworn nuggets to play up, which controversies to amplify and which extras get selected to play the role of the 'typical' voter.

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A seemingly disembodied amplified male voice intoned, "Ron Paul, we are the media. Please answer all questions, and answer them truthfully." (It turned out to be the performance artist who goes by the name of Vermin Supreme, manning a bullhorn from behind Paul's van. Dogging candidates in the New Hampshire primary is his speciality.)

A Ron Paul for President staff member watched the throng around Fuller with concern. He tapped her on the shoulder and asked to talk to her privately. She stepped back from the reporters while the staffer whispered in her ear. When she returned to the group of journalists, she declined to relay what she had been told. But she didn't back down from her contention that what had happened inside Moe Joe's was a bad thing. "It wasn't right," she said. She never did get to shake Paul's hand.

High School Everywhere

I arrived at Rick Santorum's town hall about a half hour ahead of start time, only to find most of the chairs in the Salem Elks Lodge occupied by the same high-schoolers who had fawned over Ron Paul. But to Santorum's credit, he drew at least as many actual New Hampshire voters, and he actually seemed interested in talking to them -- and talking and talking and talking.

Santorum went on for an hour and a half, kicking off the session with a long-winded message about economic recovery through deregulation of energy as a means of stimulating manufacturing, and took questions for an hour, keenly aware of the row of cameras that faced him, and even the scribes like me who stood, scribbling on notepads.

Shelly Sousa of Salem, and Kim Litmann of nearby Derry, had come to hear out Santorum, still undecided, as are 55 percent of New Hampshire voters, about who they would cast their votes for 24 hours later. Both had brought their children with them.

Sousa deemed the media attention drawn by candidates as "damaging" to the primary process, because, she said, "people just decide they can watch it on TV or the Internet, and they don't bother to come out. They don't see the whole picture."

I chose to talk to them because they looked to me, a denizen of Washington, D.C., like what a "real" New Hampshire voter should look like. Their faces were unadorned by makeup, they wore bulky, casual winter garb, and had all those kids in tow (five between them).

Curtain Up, Curtain Down

Today's primary will conclude New Hampshire's seven months of posing for national television audiences as a nostalgic notion of all the good things America used to be -- and could be again, if only the wise select the right candidate from among the opposition party's offerings.

The story will conclude tonight, as it always does, with a verdict said to be decided by the plainspoken people of New Hampshire, whose responsibility as the really American vetters of candidates, we're told, they take very seriously. And the curtain will fall, only to rise again in four years time, for yet another sequel.  

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* In 1995, for instance, the national religious right swooped in to take over a local school board just in time for the primary. I wrote about it here, for Mother Jones.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO Now blog. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan

 
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