American politics has a long tradition of front-porch campaigning, particularly in the Republican Party —perfected by James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley, all of whom were elected to the White House without stepping far beyond their front porches — but the 1964 New Hampshire primary was won by a Republican who slipped in through the back door.
That back door was unguarded because of the gaudy spectacle played out for months in the rocky, mountainous front yard of New Hampshire politics, where the classic moderate of his time (Nelson A. Rockefeller, a beloved graduate and powerful trustee of Dartmouth College in Hanover) clashed with the classic conservative of his time (Barry Goldwater, whose penchant for speaking blunt truth and whose credo of small government was thought to have a natural affinity with the flinty and frugal Yankees of the Granite State, proud then as now of countenancing neither a sales nor an income tax).
For weeks these two giants crossed the state, then populated by only slightly more than half a million people, not yet transformed by the Yankee Magazine ethos into an enclave of the quaint and the cute, and still dominated by textile mills and the shoe industry. On the new highways that would transform New Hampshire in the next decades, the candidates sped from Concord to Keene to Conway and back to Contoocook.
Goldwater alone spent 23 days here, though he came to regret the day, in Concord, when he suggested to voters in one of the three oldest states in the nation that Social Security might be better if it were voluntary.
Rockefeller rushed here at the end of each fevered week of governing in Albany, hoping his high spirits and high-mindedness (plus a few down-home cameos with the well-loved Tanzi brothers at their grocery in Hanover, pictures of which still hang on the walls in Lou’s Restaurant on Main Street) would charm voters.