Jan. 7, 2008

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The out-of-place
comedian bursts into a sudden fury.
Jane Condon, a Connecticut stand-up comic, leaps
from behind her Hillary Clinton campaign rage is a
Ron Paul supporter who just called her Hillary "a
The small woman pushes her chest against her
adversary. "She's my friend!" Condon informs the
surprised Ron Paul volunteer. Another Paul person
jumps in between the women, points his finger in
Condon's face and yells, "You're aggressive! You're
And that's how it is at the busy corner of Elm and
Bridge streets on Sunday as the state's primary
gets closer and the politics get personal. The
streets are full of volunteers sustaining long days of
election enthusiasm before Tuesday's vote. When
they meet their counterparts from other campaigns,
the city's streets can become a verbal battleground.
Jeff Badura from East Hartford chuckles Sunday
when he talks about his encounters with opposing
campaigns the day before. He's taken a week off
from work to come here and campaign for John
McCain, who he says is "the national defense
candidate." That's important to the Army veteran.
"We are at war," he said of the nation, but he could
also have said it about the campaigns striving for
any advantage.
He and other McCain supporters had
demonstrated outside a Mitt Romney press
conference on Saturday; then they encountered
opposing campaign workers on the march back to
headquarters. The city police trailed the group on
horseback, Badura says, sounding a little proud.
The first-time campaign worker calls it all "exciting
and exhilarating."
"To me, it seemed like a political theme park," he
Up in the McCain headquarters on the third floor
of an old mill building, Connecticut's 4th District
Rep. Chris Shays is sitting among the troops in a
suit and Peace Corps cap, making the same get-out-
the-vote telephone calls as everybody else.
McCain has been using the Republican
congressman as a surrogate at the smaller events he
can't reach. Shays takes on the role a bit in
headquarters at the lunch break. He stands to
address the mostly with young volunteers.
He says he was on the phone with a woman,
hoping to talk her into a McCain vote. She asked
him, "Can you please hold on? I have some
McCain volunteers at the front door." He told her,
"Ma'am, take your time."
Shays tells the workers their candidate is a
reformer who can't be intimidated. He's got two
things going for him, Shays says. "One is his
character. The other is what we all hunger for in
this country: straight talk."
"I'm never going to forget this experience," he tells
the group, adding: "Pizza's on its way soon."
Not far away, on Elm Street, the Chris Dodd
campaign headquarters isn't taking any more
deliveries. The day's plastic-wrapped Manchester
Union-Leader lies in the entryway, where a sign on
the steps warns: "Caution: Uneven Threshold."
The Connecticut senator's threshold into the
presidential arena didn't get him past Iowa.
Now his Manchester office is stripped mostly
bare, with a few "Chris Dodd, President 2008"
signs strewn on the floor. A big, hand-painted sign
in the front window still asks people to "Honk to
Stand Up to Bush." But the passing traffic is quiet.
Any activity here belongs now to the neighbors,
Mitt Romney's headquarters.
Another crowd of young people is working the
phones there. Then they stop for lunch, too, but
not until they get a pep talk from the campaign's
leader in Wyoming on a speaker phone: "This is
the moment right now. If you leave everything
you've got on the field, we're going to have a good
Jane Condon is on that field, spending the day at
the corner of Elm and Bridge.
Her son, stage actor Todd Bartels, is about a
hundred feet away on the opposite corner. For
most of the day, except for brief incursions from
the John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani forces, they
and their Clinton cohorts control the intersection
and can hear each other's calls.
Condon, whose Greenwich-mocking comedy has
appeared on "Last Comic Standing," met Clinton
before her husband's presidency. Now, the high-
voltage jokester is experimenting.
"It's tough to do a chant," she says. But she gives it
a try: "Give me a hill! Give me a Larry! What do
you get?"
The others shout: "Hillary!"
"Close enough," she says.
Then a Ron Paul mob rolls toward them along Elm.
Their numbers are overwhelming, and they flood all
four corners of the intersection. "She voted for the
war!" one man screams over and over toward
Condon at the top of his lungs.
Condon tries to answer the assertion, but both
sides are shouting over each other. Then the
woman says the "fake" thing about Clinton, and
Condon has reached her in two seconds, facing off.
She regrets it later. Condon says, "She just got
personal about Hillary."