The Ticket

Santorum-mania hits New Hampshire: the candidate’s fashion shoot/meet-and-greet

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
The Ticket

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(Holly Bailey/Yahoo News)

TILTON, New Hampshire—The sign outside the hot pink Tilt'n Diner makes a bold promise: "Real Food! Real People!" The latter part of that claim was put to the test Thursday, even before Rick Santorum rolled up in his Ford F-150 pickup truck for a lunchtime meet and greet.

About 20 minutes before Santorum's arrival, nearly 20 news photographers, camera crews and reporters stood perched close to the diner's tiny doorway, ready to capture the candidate's arrival. That number slowly doubled, then tripled—forcing diners at this tiny spot to quiz reporters, instead of the hostess, about whether they might be able to squeeze in for a quick bite to eat.

"Are there tables available?" one woman asked.

"You might check over there," a camera man replied, motioning toward the diner's counter.

"Who is coming here?" she asked, cautiously eying the growing media scrum. When told it was Santorum, who registers at just 8 percent in the polls here, she let out a disappointed, "Oh."

Santorum's truck soon arrived, the candidate sitting shotgun while chatting on the phone. And along with him, dozens more photographers and reporters materialized, breathless as though they had been on a high-speed chase to keep up with the candidate in this tiny New Hampshire town.

As Santorum emerged from the truck, there was an eruption of shutter clicks, and microphones were shoved into the candidate's face. The media crush muffled much of what the former Pennsylvania senator was saying. There was a "Gov. Romney" here and "earmarks" there.

Walking into the tiny diner, reporters awaiting Santorum's arrival were smushed into a corner with a tank of helium, usually on hand to fill up balloons for kids. It let out a whistling "whoosh" of air as reporters  pressed into it , but Santorum kept going as if he hadn't heard a thing, pausing to greet a husband and wife from Danbury, Conn., who told the ex-senator they had driven up to express support for his message of restoring the nation's values.

"Ah thank you," Santorum loudly responded, no doubt to register on the three boom microphones wavering in the air above his head.

Moving toward the diner's counter, the restaurant's hostess rubbed her head. "I just got whacked by a mic," she told stunned patrons, who were holding on tight to their drinking glasses to avoid them being knocked over by photographers angling for the perfect shot.

"I haven't seen anything like this since Mitt Romney was here," the hostess, who declined to give her name because she wasn't sure she was supposed to be talking to the news media, told Yahoo News. "This is crazy."

In the other room, reporters crouched behind the counter, pushing waitresses aside and almost knocking over pots of hot coffee and plates of food to get a shot of Santorum moving from table saying hello to diners.

The meet-and-greet took on an air of a modeling shoot. As Santorum turned to greet voters eating lunch at the counter, Brooks Kraft, a Time magazine photographer, offered a running commentary on Santorum's movements.

"Yeah, there we go. Now we're talking," the photographer said, capturing the moment for posterity. "Oh yeah!"

Santorum threw the cameras a thumbs up.

"LOVING IT!" Kraft exclaimed.  "OH, it's getting better by the minute!"


A voter asked Santorum to take a picture with him.

"He's a photographer. He can do it," the candidate said, motioning toward Kraft, who begrudgingly agreed to take the photo using the man's iPhone.

The candidate proceeded down the counter, where he paused to sign an autograph. "I feel bad for all these people just trying to eat their lunch," he told the cameras, not quite convincingly, before moving on to voters in another part of the restaurant.

Back at the counter, the man who had posed with Santorum eyed the photo with the candidate on his iPhone and let out a loud sigh.

"That guy is a horrible photographer!" he fumed. "He cut off my head. You can't even tell it's me! He must work for a small paper."

When told Kraft works for Time, the man busted into laughter.

"Time magazine? Are you serious?" he said. "He really needs to work on his technique."

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