Ray Duckler: They’re heading down the stretch, right here, in our own backyard

  • Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the SNHU Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Donald Trump brought up his family to the podium at the SNHU Arena Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Pres. Barack Obama speaks during a Hillary Clinton campaign rally at Whittemore Center Arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, Nov. 7, 2016, the day before Election Day. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Dixville Notche's first voter Clay Smith drops his ballot into the box as moderator Tom Tillotson watches Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Dixville Notch, N.H. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton beat Republican Donald Trump 4-2. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The cop at the Whittemore Center said they started lining up to see the president at 6 o’clock Monday morning, the start of a long, frenzied day.

Actually, we’ve been lining up for more than a year, ever since our first-in-the-nation primary got rolling. We knew we were important then, just like every four years, but this time the spotlight stayed hot, right up until Barack Obama stumped for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the University of New Hampshire.

The day before a historic election.

And right up until Donald Trump, the GOP candidate, hit the stage Monday night at the Southern New Hampshire University Arena, formerly known at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

The day before that same historic election.

I went to both places, thinking I was early each time, thinking I would beat the crowds. I was wrong. At the Whittemore Center in Durham, the line ran down Main Street, took a left onto Edgewood Road and went on forever, six hours before Obama was scheduled to speak.

Voters had white tickets, blue tickets and no tickets, all anxious to hear the president. Or perhaps simply to taste the flavor. Everyone’s palates were extra sharp Monday morning.

“I have not been an activist my whole life,” said Diane Scott of Chatham, a former nurse and now an artist. “But this one has brought it out in me. This is a special election.”

A special election. That sums it up, don’t you think? We have a woman running who’s got more baggage than the Brady Bunch on a world tour. We have a businessman with no political experience who some say is a bigot, and who got caught on tape mentioning a word I can’t mention.

Clinton supporters are scared to death of a Trump presidency, and they insist a Clinton White House would be great for the country. Scott has a friend with two kids, both of whom she loves like granddaughters. One has Type 1 diabetes, the other ulcerative colitis. Both are insured, and Clinton, Scott said, will carry that torch.

“With pre-existing conditions, they would not be able to afford insurance without the Affordable Care Act,” Scott said.

And Trump? “I don’t trust someone who’s gone bankrupt three times and is not willing to pay off his debt,” Scott said. “And my grandson is half Asian. Will he be rounded up into a concentration camp? This guy is such a bigot.”

By 1:05 p.m., the line had grown, nearly crossing into a new ZIP code, but no one had moved. Barbara Davis, a novelist from Rochester, saw the GOP coming apart at the seams, saying, “It will be a long time until the grudges heal. There’s a split within the GOP and it will filter into the congress and the Supreme Court.”

Berta Denton, a retired nurse practitioner from Nashua, stood with two women she called her BFFs, although they met in line. “Trump is a buffoon,” Denton told me.

I asked her not to sugarcoat her opinions. “It’s incredible he’s one of two presidential candidates,” Denton said. “It’s people who feel left out or weaker who view his authoritarian stance as empowering them.”

Before leaving for the Trump rally, I found Jose Cruz of Worcester, Mass., who was born in Puerto Rico and said Trump has insulted him, over and over.

“How does a guy like Trump get such a following?” Cruz asked. “Here’s a guy who says people are rapists and murderers and drug addicts. There’s a racist faction in our country, and this is their leader.”

On that note, I left, arriving in Trump country, in downtown Manchester, at 3:45 p.m. I met Tom Duxbury of Londonderry in the parking garage. He wore a Patriots hat and had a gravelly voice. He’s disgusted with the tone of this election, saying, “Everyone hates everyone, and everyone is talking over everyone else. I’m sick of it.”

He’s a Trump guy. He thinks Clinton will take guns away from law-abiding citizens. “She does not believe in the Second Amendment,” Duxbury told me. “And you or I would be in jail if we did what she’s done.”

That was a recurring theme: Clinton should be doing time.

Her testimony to Congress and use of a private server and erased emails have caused Trump’s people to reach a boiling point. Many of his supporters are mistrustful of the media as well, and I got a taste of that as soon as I walked the long lines along Elm and Granite streets.

A guy in an orange prison suit, an obvious reference to the attire he feels Clinton should be wearing, wanted nothing to do with me when I told him I was a newspaper writer. “You’re from the communist propaganda, right?” he said.

I followed him to get more. “Do you believe this guy?” he shouted. “He’s following me.”

I never got his name, nor could I pry the identity loose from a man with a Trump ski hat and Trump scarf. “You know Clinton’s been corrupt,” he told me. “Anyone who’s associated with her ends up dead. You’re just algae in the pond.”

So I swam off and found others, including Leah Rhonda Paul, who also wore an orange jumpsuit, not to mention two Clinton masks. The one over her face was the “public Hillary,” the one covering the back of her head the “private Hillary.”

“I don’t want a woman who’s a criminal to be the first woman president,” Paul said. “To anyone who’s honest, there’s no other way to look at her.”

I also found 13-year-old Taylor Bean of Goffstown, who told me, “I like what he’s going to do with immigration. If Hillary wins, we’ll continue on with terrorism.”

I spoke to lots more voters, at each place, with no room for all voices here. Trump supporters had no problem with his quotes about women, rationalizing that “There’s a difference between locker room talk and locker room actions,” according to Betty Schofield of Fitchburg, Mass.

And you can argue until the cows come home, but good luck convincing Clinton supporters that she should be indicted for any of her questionable decisions or testimony.

By my deadline, the packed Manchester arena had lasers cutting through smoke, as though the Rolling Stones were set to take the stage. And in the political world, they kind of did, in two places here on Monday. Obama, then Trump.

We’ve been rocking for a long time, and the show’s finally over.

Enjoy the encore.