GOP candidates mobbed as NH primary voting begins

MANCHESTER, N.H. — With voting under way in the first-in-the-nation primary, candidates found themselves mobbed by hordes of activists, reporters and bemused onlookers as they dropped by polling places to make final pitches for support.

At a polling station at a school in Manchester, voters were trickling out at a pace of a few per minute mid-morning, while police towed vehicles with out-of-state license plates and set up barricades to keep the media from getting too close.

One voter irately shoved his hand in front of a video camera to prevent himself from being filmed.

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The situation briefly spiraled out of control when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) dropped in and was immediately swarmed by hundreds of reporters and dozens of video cameras. At least two people fell to the ground and were trampled as the pack moved like a herd around Gingrich. Police quickly came to their aid, and neither appeared to be injured.

"Someone said I was the comeback kid, but I said at my age it's probably more correct to call me the comeback grandfather,” Gingrich said as he inched across the lawn in front of the school, his wife, Callista, at his side.

When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney showed up an hour later, he was similarly overwhelmed by a throng of reporters. Romney, who according to polls could cruise to a double-digit victory in New Hampshire, held a baby and visited for about five minutes before departing.

Police reinforcements arrived mounted on horses while municipal workers made futile attempts to keep things under control. Television reporters could be seen by their rows of satellite trucks doing live shots in Portuguese, German and Korean.

It was too early to assess what the likely final turnout would be, but no serious problems had been reported at any of the approximately 330 polling places, New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told The Hill.

“We're hearing out there that the turnout is steady. There aren’t any lines backing up, but it’s just a constant movement of people through the polling places,” he said.


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Scanlan’s office said it was expecting 250,000 voters in the GOP primary, as well as 75,000 voters in the Democratic primary where President Obama is running virtually unopposed.

Independent voters can declare a party on Tuesday and vote in either primary.

In Manchester, about a hundred activists bearing signs supporting their candidates huddled near the school’s entrance, shouting loudly in call and response.

“Four more years,” shouted President Obama supporters.

“Of spending. Of debt,” replied Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s followers.

Gingrich didn’t pass up an opportunity to take a last-minute shot at Romney.

Responding to Romney’s now-infamous comment from Monday about liking to be able to fire people, Gingrich on Tuesday said his rival had been taken out of context — he was referring to health insurance options — but that his carelessness revealed a deeper electoral weakness.

"If a guy misstates himself that badly and that destructively, do you really want him to take on Barack Obama?” Gingrich asked.


Jon Huntsman also made a quick stop at the polling place. As he and wife, Mary Kaye, were surrounded by cameras, a group of supporters shouted, "join the hunt, join the hunt."

Asked about his chances in South Carolina, the next state in the GOP nomination process, he said, "if you can establish this level of support in New Hampshire, you can establish it anywhere."

This story was updated at 12:34 p.m.