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All eyes on Romney

Last modified: 7/5/2012 12:00:00 AM
The house on the edge of Lake Winnipesaukee is hidden behind a line of trees, barely visible from the water.

Under yesterday's clear blue sky, it could've been anyone's home, just another dock dotting the lake's shoreline.

Minus the two large Secret Service boats stationed just off the edge of the shore.

The house belongs to likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and he brings his whole family to the Wolfeboro lake house each summer. In addition to his five children and 18 grandchildren, the Secret Service has joined the family vacation this year.

From his boat several hundred yards away from Romney's dock, Wolfeboro resident Steve Durgan pointed to a third patrol boat cruising in the distance.

Durgan said the security on the lake is for the most part inconspicuous, and lake traffic has been mostly unrestricted. The water is choppy from other boats and Jet Skis cruising the lake.

"If I didn't know there would be various security details myself, I wouldn't have suspected it," Durgan said. "I see marine patrol boats out by his place, and when he comes over (to downtown Wolfeboro), it usually has some type of water presence. Certainly I've never seen evidence of any traffic or any type of unusual water activity."

Durgan is the general manager at Goodhue and Hawkins Navy Yard, a marina on Wolfeboro Bay. Romney stores his boats with the company in the winter, Durgan said, and he has done business with the marina for years.

"He always treats our help here with the utmost respect," Durgan said. "He just seems like one of our regular customers."

Durgan waved at customers coasting past him in their speedboat on his way back to the marina. If the presidential candidate himself had driven by, Durgan would have waved to him, too.

"He's just an ordinary guy as far as we are concerned," Durgan said.

Earlier in the day, Romney and his family - all 30 of them - were the ones waving as they marched in the Wolfeboro Fourth of July parade. Local police officers and Secret Service flanked Romney as he shook hands and greeted members of the crowd.

While many Romney supporters lined Main Street in red, white and blue to see the presidential candidate, Alton resident Jeanie Griggs just wanted to enjoy the lakeside town in peace.

She casually strolled through downtown Wolfeboro yesterday afternoon with Loren Shapiro.

Despite the security surrounding Romney during the parade, the two said the Secret Service in the area has been much less visible than they expected.

"It was nice to see there's not an overwhelming Secret Service presence," Shapiro said.

When former French president Nicholas Sarkozy visited Lake Winnipesaukee several years ago, Griggs said his security staff made it almost impossible to drive her boat in and out of the cove where she lives.

Romney's presence on the lake is much less intrusive, she said.

She and Shapiro sometimes see the family on their dock, but life on the lake or in the town has not been disrupted by extra security.

But if Romney wins the presidency, Griggs predicted the town would change. Her quiet summer vacations would be disrupted by too many tourists, she said.

"It's going to be just like what happened at Kennebunkport," she said. "It's going to be bad."

The small town of Kennebunkport, Maine, is the summer home of former president George H.W. Bush. When he became president, the town became a major destination for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bush residence.

"As a resident, I'm not going to like it, but it would be good for business," she said.

Pennsylvania residents Ron and Diane Hodge have been spending their summers in Wolfeboro since the mid-1980s. Yesterday, Diane clutched a "Romney for America" sign along the parade route.

At the beginning of the parade, she said she approached the presidential candidate for a handshake.

"I just said, 'Will you save America for us?' " she said. "He said, 'I will.' "

Diane described Romney as a "down-to-earth guy." Ron said he had seen photos of Romney with his grandchildren outside a popular local ice cream stand called Bailey's Bubble.

"To see him sitting on the bench right across the street . . . that tells me he wants to be a normal guy, taking his kids and grandkids out for an ice cream at Bubble's," Ron said.

Nearby, David Bonomi, 31, sported a "Romney for America" sticker on his shirt. He held his 3-year-old son, Junior, and watched Romney proceed down the parade route.

Romney's pending presidential nomination has not yet disrupted life in the small town, Bonomi said.

"There's been no effect whatsoever outside of this parade being a little bit busier," he said. "I'm just noticing more people downtown."

A Romney presidency would be a boon for the small businesses on Main Street, he said. Tourists and journalists flooding the town when Romney visits would support Wolfeboro shops and hotels, he said.

"When he comes here, the media comes here, which generates revenue in the local economy," he said.

At the end of the parade route, Romney addressed his supporters on the lawn of Brewster Academy.

With the lake in the background, he thanked "his immediate family and his Wolfeboro family" for celebrating July 4 with him that morning.

After the speech, he disappeared from downtown to spend the rest of the afternoon at the family lake house.

When Romney travels in and out of downtown Wolfeboro, he often uses the public dock off Main Street. Bob and Kathy Dolengewicz, owners of the dockside Hot Dog Heaven stand, said he comes and goes like any other resident.

A reporter once asked Bob what Romney would have to do to get his vote.

"I said if he ever came down and bought a hot dog," Bob said. "I don't know if he read the story, but he came down with his grandkids and his wife and bought a hot dog one day. . . . He's got my vote."

Whether they plan to vote for Romney or not, every one of Bob's customers seemed to have met him along the parade route yesterday.

"I must have talked to 500 people today, and they all said they shook his hand," Bob said. "His hand must be tired."

When the crowd dispersed yesterday afternoon, Wolfeboro police Chief Stuart Chase said the morning's security surrounding the parade had gone smoothly. The Wolfeboro Police Department has been working with the Secret Service for about two months to prepare for the Romneys' visit.

"We've met regularly, we've shared intelligence, and been working with people at the residence and people who are charged with parade route stuff," Chase said. "It's been a great marriage so far."

All 13 of the Wolfeboro officers always work July 4 for traffic and crowd control during the day's festivities. This year was no different, Chase said, even though he saw more people in the downtown area than past years.

"We'll breathe a sigh of relief when it's all done," he said.

For the rest of the Romneys' vacation, Chase said the family just asked to be as "minimally intrusive" on the town as possible.

"It's a really good blend of him getting his message out but enjoying his time off as well," Chase said.

On the lake, Durgan turned the boat around and began to cruise away from the shoreline.

"We're pretty proud of the fact that we're part of the oldest summer resort in America, and we have a presidential candidate who calls this his summer home," Durgan said. "It's always exciting when he's here, and in my view and most people's view, the presidential race has just added to that excitement."

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3316, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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