Eagle-eyed TV watchers — those with a strong interest in north country politics and a predilection for MSNBC — got a little surprise with their “Morning Joe” on Monday.
In the background of the morning talk show, broadcasting from Manchester, N.H., were two faces familiar to north country politicos: J. Bradshaw Mintener, the town Democratic chairman in Canton, and Michael W. Schell, founder of the state Democratic Rural Conference and a Chaumont resident.
The two men were at the restaurant in New Hampshire from which the show was being broadcast as political tourists, of sorts, for the first in the nation Republican primary. Granite State voters go to the polls today to decide among former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
“It’s been quite an experience,” Mr. Mintener said.
Mr. Mintener is no stranger to New Hampshire primary politics. In 2008, he knocked on doors in support of then-Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s primary campaign. Mrs. Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, but lost the nomination to President Barack Obama.
This year, Mr. Mintener is shifting his responsibilities to the fourth estate. He is helping his nephew put together a Nashua, N.H., radio show. He is setting up interviews from the Manchester hotel that serves as the headquarters of the national media and will collect and report election results as they come in tonight.
Mr. Mintener said he spoke briefly with Mr. Romney, the frontrunner in the GOP nomination race and the New Hampshire primary, in the hallway of a high school after an event in Derry.
“He’s a lot different one on one,” Mr. Mintener said. “He comes across as wooden at the debates, a little like Richard Nixon. Very bright. In person, he has much more of a sense of humor, and he’s more personable. Romney is really a good guy.”
Mr. Mintener said the independent-minded New Hampshire electorate reminds him of voters in the north country.
“In many ways, we’re sort of like them,” Mr. Mintener said. “Jobs have been lost; the economy is rough.”
Mr. Mintener said his experience as a reporter — as a young man, he wrote for the Washington Post — will help him remain objective throughout the process. The radio show has a conservative bent, said his nephew, William Infantine.
At times, the camera has turned around on him, Mr. Mintener said. He has been interviewed by Japanese, Dutch and German media outlets, he said.
“I’m not running around wearing my Democratic Party stripes on my sleeve,” Mr. Mintener said in a telephone interview as he waited for Mr. Gingrich to appear at an event. “If they ask me, I’ll tell them. I’m trying to be fairly objective, if that’s possible, when I’m being interviewed.”
Mr. Mintener said he was surprised to run into Mr. Schell at a restaurant in Manchester on Sunday night. The two made the six-and-a-half-hour trip separately.
“Both Mike Schell and I are sort of political gadflies,” Mr. Mintener said. “It’s like the teeny-bopper that follows the professional automobile racers.”
Mr. Schell said that ever since volunteering for former Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh in 1976, he has tried to come to New Hampshire every four years. The consummate politics aficionado, Mr. Schell said his visit made him a spectator, not a participant, in the biggest political story in the United States.
“I love history,” Mr. Schell said via telephone from Windham, where he is staying with his wife and her relatives. “And this is really living history to be at the New Hampshire primary.”
Mr. Schell, who is still active in Democratic causes, said the primary in New Hampshire has been quieter than in years past. He attributes that to the lack of a challenge on the Democratic side, and the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side.
“I think even Romney, a neighbor, is not generating a lot of enthusiasm,” Mr. Schell said. “Nobody’s really excited about it. It’s a calmer primary than I’ve seen in years.”
Mr. Schell said he was at a diner when Mr. Santorum’s campaign came in, overwhelming the establishment and its customers with a roughly 60-member media contingent. The owner had all the electronic media kicked out because the camera equipment was interfering with a few customers’ meals.
“I like seeing how the advance staff works on all of these,” Mr. Schell said. “Santorum’s advance staff kind of messed up.”
Mr. Schell said being in the background of “Morning Joe” was another highlight — he’s a fan of the show.
And he certainly didn’t leave his Democratic affiliation at the New Hampshire border. Mr. Schell said he watched Mr. Gingrich speak at an event in Derry on Sunday night.
“We were bored to tears,” Mr. Schell said. “And I think the audience was, too.”