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Primary Day: Last Impressions

By producer Jarrett Murphy

Knowing they will never get a second chance at a last impression with voters, Democratic presidential campaigns staked out polling places and worked the phones on Tuesday.

While the candidates themselves made visits to a few polling stations, volunteers in hats and gloves manned posts outside voting places all day.

Some veterans of last-minute campaigning said turnout was good or heavy.

In a state where few street corners are without signs, where local television is swamped by candidate ads and where the campaign dominates the news, waving a sign as voters enter the polling place might seem a futile effort — but not to those doing it.

"The New Hampshire voters like to see the people out there supporting them – they like to see that people actually care," said Liz Ciminelli, a Republican college student supporting John Edwards and taking a class on the primary. She stood outside Hillside Middle School in Manchester, along with representatives of all the candidates, including President Bush.

Ciminelli, from Rochester, N.Y., said many of Edwards' staff were from the South and not used to the cold weather; they would be spared lengthy duty in the frigid outdoors. But they never complain, she added.

At the Gossler School on the other side of the Merrimarck River, Wesley Clark volunteers said they had been out since before 6 a.m. but would be relieved soon to warm up — and make some phone calls — until the evening rush at the polls.

John Kerry backers there had the benefit of a portable heater.

Nick Panogopolous, who held a Joe Lieberman sign and stood on a piece of wood to reduce the conduction of cold from the asphalt to his feet, said the last-minute sign waving was unlikely to make a difference.

But he added: "You don't want to not be here." Other campaign veterans agreed: You never want your guy's name to be the one missing from the gauntlet. And voters have said in interviews that they were undecided as late as Monday, and unsure what would finally seal their decision — for some, it may have come down to one last sign.

At the Parker Varney School, 20 Edwards volunteers hopped up and down to stay warm. "Our hopping will convince people," joked one. A smattering of Howard Dean, Clark, Kerry and Lieberman supporters looked on. No one shouted to voters.

As has often been the case in the closing days of the campaign, the companion of the dedicated volunteers was the news media. While Edwards volunteers bounced, a Fox News truck loomed in the background. At that and other polling places, voters came and went sporadically; the sign-holders and the media were always there.

"We're looking for all the supporters that we can get and we'll do everything it takes to try to get some supporters, even if it's at the last minute," said Patrick O'Neill, who stood alone holding a Kerry sign outside the Bartlett School in Goffstown.

O'Neill, a Southern New Hampshire University student interviewed at around 10 o'clock, said he thought someone was supposed to relieve him at 9 a.m.

A voter exiting the Bartlett School said she liked to see the signs as she walked in. If — her husband interjected — they don't get in your face.

The get-out-the-vote operation was more complex than mere sign-holding. Howard Dean's campaign sent postcards to all its supporters, instructing them to give the cards to the Dean volunteers when they vote. Those supporters whose cards aren't called in will get a call later.

"As a Democrat, I'm not used to all this organization," joked Ed, a Dean backer at Northwest Elementary in Manchester. "We're used to going into some beer hall and beating each other up."

Edwards volunteers said they were calling registered independents and Democrats. At Edwards' headquarters, located in a charming old office building on Elm Street in downtown Manchester, six volunteers made calls around a small wooden table at midmorning. Sacks of doughnuts and a half eaten cake were on a nearby desk.

A few doors down the street, a handful of volunteers worked the phones at Lieberman's storefront headquarters. Dean's new volunteer headquarters on the same street turned a reporter away until 2:30 p.m. A dozen or so workers were setting up inside.

At Dennis Kucinich's airy headquarters, also on Elm, volunteers dropped by to ask where to go. A large map of Manchester was posted on one wall, and drawing of the congressman by Mrs. Dunn's kindergarten class in Mount Vernon, N.H., were displayed opposite. Volunteers' duffel bags and suitcases were piled in one office.

Several blocks from downtown, Clark's campaign operated out of an old factory building and buzzed with activity. One room was for phone calls, another was for dispatching volunteers. A big jug of coffee was being prepared for the folks in the field.

On the wall were letters from schoolchildren to Clark. One asked: "Do you like to draw? Is being a general cool?"

By Jarrett Murphy

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