U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter gives a speech during a campaign stop with workers at a military equipment manufacturer in Newington, N.H., Monday, Jan. 29, 2007. Hunter, like most presidential candidates in the second tier, soldiers on with encouragement from small knots of supporters for whom his message generates a special resonance, promoting ideas in the face of sluggish fundraising, and despite crushing poll numbers. (AP Photo / Jim Cole)
CONCORD — Not everybody loves a winner. Some save their passion for the underdog.
The presidential candidate whose last name isn't Clinton or Giuliani treks through early voting states like New Hampshire promoting ideas despite crushing poll numbers and sluggish fund raising. These contenders, nearly a dozen, soldier on with encouragement from small knots of supporters for whom their message generates a special resonance.
Strong backers of the more improbable candidates readily acknowledge their favorite stands zero chance of winning New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary or anything beyond.
"No, he doesn't have a shot," Democratic activist Ben Clifford said of Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio congressman who barely registers in polls in his second White House bid. "But every time he comes, it invigorates me. He talks about the issues that are most important."
Clifford, who drives a car with a "No Bush" license plate and organizes young activists in Manchester, gets fired up by Kucinich, who opposed the Iraq war before it began and wants to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney.
Other candidates in the second tier inspire equal passion. Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo fires up his faithful with calls to fortify the U.S.-Mexican border. Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd focuses on a surge of diplomacy to restore the country's international reputation. Sen. Joe Biden rallies Democrats with his foreign policy experience and expertise.
"For second-tier candidates, that's the mantra: they are the idea candidates. They are in the race because they believe the issues they're talking about and the ideas they have are not well-represented by the top-tier candidates," said Mark Wrighton, who teaches politics at the University of New Hampshire.
Unlike the top-tier candidates, Republican presidential hopeful Duncan Hunter doesn't have a bevy of aides, volunteers or even a map.
After a recent speech to the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, the California congressman milled about a small, cramped hotel meeting room to pose for pictures and sign autographs for the 30 or so curious listeners. Then he walked back to the head table to ask how to get to his next stop. He was driving himself around the state in search of support.
Scrappy, upstart campaigns typically play to their base and hope the hot-button issues ignite their candidacies.
Sen. Sam Brownback has visited with home-schooled families and anti-abortion activists in Manchester, N.H. The Kansas conservative, like most in the crowded second tier, is trying to capture the same momentum that helped Pat Buchanan win the GOP primary in 1996.
"He's a compassionate conservative," said Paul Berube, a Brownback supporter from Nashua, N.H., who had lunch with him. "He needs to get his message out. He needs people to come and listen."
That can be easier said than done. When Kucinich tried to hold a town hall-style meeting at the New Hampshire Institute of Art recently, a storm knocked out the power. Volunteers directed about 30 people to a nearby restaurant, where Kucinich had them gather their chairs in a circle and talked to them informally instead of giving a speech.
But history offers hope. In 1992, Bill Clinton was a relatively unknown Arkansas governor who made a second-place showing as "the Comeback Kid" on his way to the nomination and the White House.
Buchanan, who beat front-runner Bob Dole in 1996, said the intimacy of campaigning in the early states makes upsets possible.
Without New Hampshire and Iowa, he said, "there is no chance whatsoever for a dark horse or someone who is not known nationally to really show what he has and his ideas and his ability to campaign and his ability to lead."
That said, exceptions to the rule are rare even in the early voting states.
"Yes, it's David and Goliath. There's no two ways about it," Tancredo said during one trip to the state. "But you know what? David won."