If a guy walks into a hardware store and nobody sees him, does anybody care?
That was the question I asked myself Wednesday as I skulked around LaValley Building Supply in West Lebanon, N.H., waiting for something to happen.
Inside was this guy named Mitt Romney, who doesn't like dogs very much and who is also running for president of the United States. He's been at camp this week — debate camp, that is — in nearby West Windsor, Vt. But with Democrats hogging the spotlight down in Charlotte, Romney briefly emerged from his pal's $3.9 million lair to conduct a few television interviews in the closest purple state he could find — in what appeared to be the handtool and glove aisle at LaValley's.
I happened to be in Norwich at the time and, alerted to the visit by a tweet from WCAX-TV's Adam Sullivan (thanks, bro!), I popped on down to the West Leb strip, figuring that if the Romney event was a bust I could at least drop by Lebanon Pet & Aquarium Center to check out the fish.
It was, in fact, a total bust.
Though I waited patiently for nearly two hours, I failed to catch a single glimpse of that perfectly coiffed hair, that casually unbuttoned dress shirt or that reassuringly square jaw. I went there for Mitt, but all I got was Randy Brock.
Shortly after I arrived on the scene, Vermont's Republican gubernatorial candidate rolled up with his buddy and driver, former lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Mark Snelling. Like us piddling local reporters, the pair of Green Mountain GOPers got the Secret Service pat-down at a security checkpoint outside the store and then waited, and waited, and waited for something to happen.
To kill time, I walked up to a group of what I thought were members of Romney's traveling press corps. Turns out three of them were from the Valley News, whose headquarters is a block away from LaValley's. The fourth was the New York Times' Jeremy Peters, to whom I accidentally admitted I was a low-key fan-boy.
We country bumpkin reporters tried to play it cool around the national press corps, with their fancy lanyards and road-weary eyes, but we mostly failed. Hallenbeck totally blew our spot a couple times, talking about how "surreal" it was to cover a presidential campaign, even though I think we were just hanging out at a hardware store.
Meanwhile, Brock, Snelling and the local press corps were stuck next to the checkout counter on the wrong side of a blue curtain separating us from the action. We could (kind of) hear Romney jabbering away, but we couldn't see him — except for the Freeps' Emily McManamy, who somehow caught this photo of a barely-visible Romney on the other side of the curtain.
But, you know, whatevz. I didn't even really want to see him. If I'd bumped into the guy, I'd probably just ask him some awkward question about his dog.
Brock, on the other hand, definitely wanted to hang with Romney, telling me as we were waiting around, "Obviously I want to make sure that he doesn't forget Vermont, that Vermont is still here. We are part of the union, and that he has a lot of loyal supporters in Vermont who want to see him succeed because we do want to change the direction that the country is going."
Eventually a portly, balding Romney staffer came and fetched Brock and Snelling. A LaValley's employee leaning against the checkout counter sarcastically remarked, "Don't worry about the floo-ah," as the campaign staffer dragged aside a metal barricade that was blocking the toilet and sink aisle.
So what did Romney say during his interviews? I wish I could tell you, but I couldn't really hear. Something about cracking down on China and Obama not knowing "how to get the economy going" and the Democrats being "incredibly out of touch with America."
Unlike Romney, who hangs out in hardware stores.
During one pause between interviews, Romney awkwardly attempted to banter with some New Hampshire-ites arrayed around him. He said something about last winter's weather ("Not much snow," a New Hampshire-ite dutifully responded) and asked, "What's the name of that ski resort just over the border in Vermont?"
"Okemo?" someone ventured.
"Yeah, maybe Okemo," Romney said.
"Ascutney?" said another, noting that the mountain was closed for business. JUST LIKE AMERICA, THANKS TO OBAMA-CARE!
Near the end of Romney's interviews, a very stern-looking campaign staffer with piercing eyes rolled up on us reporters milling about the checkout counter and said, "What are you doing here? This isn't open press" — despite the fact that Romney was speaking to Fox News Channel's audience of millions. He then shooed Hallenbeck, Ledbetter et al. out of the store. I stayed put, hiding my reporter's notebook in my pocket and trying to play it cool. But the stern-looking staffer came back and kicked me out. He appeared very disappointed in me for disobeying his first shoo-ing.
Stupid, STUPID local reporters!
Shortly thereafter Brock exited the store, chest puffed out like he'd just emerged from a high-level, tri-lateral diplomatic engagement with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.
"It was very good," Brock reported, adding that he'd spent "ten or fifteen minutes" with the nominee. "We just chatted about Vermont. We chatted about my campaign. We chatted about what he's doing, was able to listen to some of the major issues that he has. We discussed his concerns about unemployment, about getting the economy moving, about some of the trends we're seeing in the Obama administration and what he intends to do differently."