Outside the Debate: Gary Johnson Nation

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. – The scene outside the debate hall is actually quite calm – smaller than the crowd I remember from 2007’s debate in the same location. In the penned-off area for candidate supporters, around 40 percent of signs are for Ron Paul (some are pro, some are 2008 campaign signs with “2012” taped on), 15 percent are for Mitt Romney, and there’s a forest of Rick Santorum signs held up by a relatively small number of people. The most creativity is coming from the Gary Johnson crowd. Their guy didn’t make it into the debate because he didn’t register above 2 percent in CNN’s poll average. These folks are pissed.

“I crunched the polls,” said Hardy Macia (pictured right) of GaryJohnsonGrassroots.com. “The polls that had Gary at the lowest included a bunch of celebrities who aren’t running, like Giuliani, Palin – they’re not even here.”

“Gingrich is allowed in!” huffed Steve Cobb, hoisting more homemade Johnson signs. “And he’s dead in the water!”

Paul’s supporters were somewhat less aggrieved; their candidate is taken seriously, finally, sort of. Romney’s supporters were the most moderate, which surprised me – what sort of moderate takes an afternoon to support a candidate outside a debate?

“I voted for Obama last time,” said Bob Brennis, sporting a Romney: Believe in America sticker on his jacket. “He was handed a real mess. But I’m pretty moderate. I’d like to vote for Romney. If one of these more marginal candidates is the nominee I think I have to vote for Obama again.”

I met my first real life Michele Bachmann sign-wavers: Ann Kolifrath’s sign featured a scan of Bachmann’s signature, which she’d grabbed at a Memorial Day event in Dover. I asked what she thought of Tim Pawlenty’s subtle jab at Bachmann – that Republicans shouldn’t vote for candidates who’ve merely sponsored failed bills.

“What else is she supposed to do except write bills?” asked Kolfirath, puzzled. “She’s taking the lead on these constitutional issues.”

The Paul supporters didn’t like to hear this. When a small cheer for Bachmann went up, one Paul backer shouted “Bachmann voted for the PATRIOT Act! She’s no champion of freedom.”

The perennial stunt candidate Vermin Supreme walked the area trying to start chants: He’d say the first name of a candidate, fans would say the second.

“NEWT!” he shouted through a microphone.

No one said anything.