Seacoast is the place to be for candidates

PORTSMOUTH -- In the days between Feb. 12 and 20, no less than five Democratic presidential candidates, ranging from high profile to long-shots, are scheduled to campaign here on the New Hampshire Seacoast.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama spoke at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Monday, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd was at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Redhook Ale Brewery on Thursday, both New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton are scheduled to be here on Saturday, and on Sunday, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich will be in Barrington.

With at least 10 months still to go before the not-yet-scheduled New Hampshire primary, the sheer number and status of these candidates is something most Seacoast residents have never seen before. The answer to why this is happening this year is largely in the eye of the beholder.

For N.H. Democratic Commit-tee Director Kathy Sullivan, having this many candidates visit the Seacoast is not unusual.

"All the candidates have always gone all over the state," Sullivan said. "The only thing is that this is the earliest we’ve ever seen major candidates in this state; that’s my sense."

However, Steve Marchand, Portsmouth’s mayor and a declared Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, said the nature of the Seacoast, both politically and geographically, offers candidates the perfect opportunity for reaching a large number of Democrats in a short period of time.

"There are a lot of Democrats in a small area," Marchand said. "Also, Seacoast residents are well-educated and highly engaged (in the political process)."

Marchand, who was the campaign manager for former state Sen. Mark Fernald in his 2002 bid for governor, said he would advise any candidate to spend "a disproportionate" time here on the Seacoast. It is an area, he said, that lends itself to showing off candidates at their best to a national audience.

"You can do great downtown walks, there are great venues for town hall-type meetings and house parties," the mayor said. "And we’re used to doing those kinds of things so setting up the logistics is easy for a candidate."

Rockingham County Democratic Party Chairman Lenore Patton said candidates are cognizant of the changes that have occurred in this region and became evident in the virtual Democratic sweep of the 2006 mid-term elections.

"They see the changes," Patton said. "They know we tripled the number of Democratic state representatives from Rockingham County in the last election."

Patton said she has been in contact with all Democratic candidates’ staffs over the past several weeks and has worked hard to make a trip to this region comfortable for them.

"We’ve been doing everything we can to make them welcome and to facilitate meetings between the candidates and voters," she said. "(Having the candidates focus their attention here is) great for the Seacoast and says something about the value of the New Hampshire primary. It is more important than ever."

Portsmouth Democratic activist and treasurer of the county Democratic organization Anita Freedman put it all a bit more succinctly.

"I’ve been telling (the candidates), ‘You're in a blue state, and Portsmouth is a blue city,’" Freedman said. "They should not ignore us, as some have tried to do in past elections.

"I tell them, ‘Go where you’re going to win, where there are people who will vote for you,’" she said.