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New Hampshire presidential towns largely ignored in campaign

In this photo taken Friday, July 10, 2015 a sign in the center of town acknowledges the town was named after the first president in Washington, N.H. With a large list of candidates criss-crossing across the nation's earliest presidential primary state, few stop by the town named after the first president. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

WASHINGTON, N.H. (AP) — All presidential candidates want to get to Washington, D.C. But what about Washington, New Hampshire?

Incorporated a dozen years before George Washington’s first inauguration, Washington is one of a half-dozen New Hampshire towns named after presidents. But, along with most other communities, it has largely been bypassed by those hoping to become president.

Contrary to the perception that presidential candidates travel to every nook and cranny across the state to win votes in the nation’s first primary, they mostly stick to a well-worn path.

So far this cycle, candidates have made more than 500 stops in 89 of the state’s 234 towns and cities, according to candidate schedules compiled by New England Cable News. Nearly 100 of those stops were in the largest city, Manchester, followed by Nashua, Concord and Portsmouth. More than a third of the visited towns hosted just a single event.

That leaves wide swaths of the state ignored, including some of the presidential towns — not that anyone’s complaining.

“It doesn’t make much difference to me,” said Brian Moser, finishing up breakfast at the Washington General Store last week. “It would just make life more hectic.”

Moser, 47, is already busy enough. He works for the town public works department, serves as the town fire chief and is a part-time volunteer police officer. A Republican, he said that he hasn’t invested much time yet in assessing this cycle’s large cast of candidates, but that he expects to pay more attention to the news and debates once they get going.

“I figure I’ll know it when I see it,” he said when asked what he looks for in a president.

There’s no definitive list of where candidates have gone in the 100 years since New Hampshire held its first presidential primary, but in the past decade, the sole candidate to visit Washington was Republican Jon Huntsman, who stopped at the general store in December 2011, according to candidate tracking websites maintained by George Washington University, Democracy in Action and New England Cable News.

The towns of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe have fared no better during that time. Republican Rick Santorum held a town hall meeting in Jefferson in 2011, Ron Paul scheduled and then canceled a trip to Madison in 2007, and if any candidate has stepped foot in Monroe, there’s no record of it.

“I’ve lived here for 66 years and I don’t ever remember seeing one,” said Monroe’s 66-year-old tax collector, Keith Merchand. “Maybe Hillary (Clinton) can come by — some of the ladies in the town office here might like to see her.”

Merchand, who declined to discuss his political leanings, said that he is far from making up his mind about any candidate, but that his decision will be based on careful research. And he understands why his town — population 786, according to the last census — gets overlooked.

“It’s a bedroom town. If someone was to drive through town today and stop, most everyone would be gone anyway because they work out of town,” he said. “It makes sense. They’re going to go where there’s a population. … These little towns are kind of left at the mercy of whatever happens.”

At the Madison Community Market and Deli, where Ron Paul was supposed to campaign in 2007, employee Alex Manning said he doesn’t feel the least bit slighted. In past years, he has seen candidates including Republican Michele Bachmann and Democrat John Kerry in neighboring North Conway.

“Madison is such a small town. North Conway is where everything happens. I can drive right up the street and see them,” said Manning, 27, a Republican.

With the exception of Washington — about 40 miles west of Concord — the six presidential towns are in the less-populated northern half of the state, and together their populations barely top 8,000. Despite being overlooked by candidates, voter turnout in the 2012 presidential primary in all six towns was close to or higher than the turnout statewide.

Steve Hanssen, a Republican and retired federal reserve banker who moved to Washington from New York 13 years ago, said he is keeping close tabs on the presidential race, even if none of the candidates come close to his town. He’s looking for a president who has managerial talents, and hopes that if one of the Republican candidates wins, they will turn to their former primary rivals to fill out key positions in their administration.

“We’ve got an amazing scope of talent in the candidates presenting themselves to voters,” said Hanssen. “I’m going to reserve my judgment, but I’m paying close attention.”

In the past, Hanssen has attended candidate rallies and other events in surrounding communities, and he expects to again.

“Around here, our neighborhood is 30 or 40 miles around,” he said.

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