Celebrity candidates look to adjust to retail politics in N.H.

Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenLewandowski launches campaign-style website during Capitol Hill hearing Democrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine MORE (D) remembers former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreGinsburg calls proposal to eliminate Electoral College 'more theoretical than real' Difference between primaries and caucuses matters in this election Emma Thompson pens op-ed on climate change: 'Everything depends on what we do now' MORE’s early trips to the site of the first-in-the-nation primary as he tried to transition from vice president to presidential candidate.

The sitting vice president, accompanied by a traveling circus of media, supporters, and Secret Service, suddenly had to grapple with the tiny diners, the house parties and the town halls. These venues were often bursting at the seams with voters used to interviewing candidates as if they were applying to work in the local factory or restaurant.

“The campaign figured they needed to lose a lot of the entourage and really engage the people,” Shaheen said. “And when he started doing that, he started doing well.”

And now that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is making her first trip to the Granite State in more than 10 years this weekend, the campaign and the state are bracing for crowd turnouts and a media reception that would make the Pope blush.

But in a state considered to be the Super Bowl of retail politics, a number of strategists who have worked in New Hampshire say the campaigns of both Clinton and Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama meets with Greta Thunberg: 'One of our planet's greatest advocates' Trump: Cokie Roberts 'never treated me nicely' but 'was a professional' Obama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' MORE (D-Ill.) would do well to focus on the voters, not the cameras. According to reports, Obama had more than 150 reporters in tow when he visited in mid-December.

Peter Greenberger, who served as the New Hampshire political director for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in 2004, said the celebrity candidates will have to come out of “their bubbles” if they want to do well on primary day.

“I think the star power of Hillary and Obama will have to bend to people-power,” Greenberger said.

Greenberger cited then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s initial strategy in 2000, when he “tried to run a star-power campaign of inevitability … and he was thumped in New Hampshire.”

“I think the strategists working for the tier-one candidates are wise to learn that lesson early,” he said.

Former Ambassador George Bruno, Gen. Wesley Clark’s top political adviser in the state in 2004, agreed along those lines, adding that the unique flavor of the early contest always withstands the early hype surrounding famous candidates’ first trips to the state.

“Retail politics in New Hampshire is still alive and well,” Bruno said. “Once some of the celebrity candidates … take their first official dips into the New Hampshire snow, it will still go back to retail politics. There’s always that phenomenon of here today, gone tomorrow.”

Bruno said Granite State voters also have their own filters to get beyond the media coverage, and he cited as one example the reports painting Sen. Joseph Biden’s (D-Del.) recent trip to the state as a nonstarter with voters.

Bruno, who has spoken with many of the candidates but not yet declared his support for any of them, said that Biden is in fact “a man of tremendous substance … and I think that will come out in the retail process.”

This weekend, Clinton is scheduled for three town halls, which are open to press, and two house parties, which are open to local press but allow only pool coverage for national media.

Clinton campaign staffers said they are mindful of the traditional demands that voters there have of their candidates.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect that interaction,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee, who worked in New Hampshire for Clark in 2004.

Elleithee said the Clinton campaign feels it is striking the right balance between media needs and voter demands, citing its efforts in Iowa last month. It plans to continue that strategy in the Granite State this weekend despite the crushing amount of media requests it has received.

“We’re going to make sure the media circus doesn’t interfere with her ability to connect to the voters,” Elleithee said.

He added that despite the expectation of a tremendous entourage around Clinton, the candidate will still make the rounds at traditional stops like the Merrimack Diner and the Puritan Backroom, both in Manchester.

The Puritan Backroom’s owner and manager, Chris Pappas, said that despite the larger crowds, both he and voters in the diner still expect the contenders to “go booth to booth.”

“I think that essential conversation still happens,” Pappas said.

Pappas said he has already had visits from White House hopefuls like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), former Iowa Gov. Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE (D), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and Biden. He added that given the size of the fields in both parties, the crowds will eventually divide themselves up among the different candidates.

Shaheen, who now works as director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the Granite State voters she knows are not easily star-struck and generally keep an open mind until they see each of the candidates in action.

“They’re keeping their powder dry,” Shaheen said.

For her part, the former gubernatorial and Senate candidate said she will probably not endorse anyone, at least publicly, because her current position at Harvard implies neutrality.