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PEAKS & VALLEYS

A testing ground for advocates

Paul Stillwell of Concord, N.H., asked presidential candidate John Edwards a question about marijuana while he was in the state last week. Stillwell didn't care whether Edwards had smoked it; he wondered whether Edwards favored re-legalizing industrial hemp. "We're asking everybody we can get to," said Stillwell, who's a member of the N.H. Hemp Council. The Carbon Coalition, a group of environmental organizations, sends volunteers to candidate appearances to get specifics about their energy policies; volunteers then post the responses on their website, carboncoalition.org. Besides being a testing ground for candidates, New Hampshire is also a demonstration ground for advocacy groups hoping to pin down candidate positions on everything from reproductive rights to gun control. Dartmouth College political science professor Linda Fowler counted 45 such groups in the 2000 primary; University of New Hampshire political science professor Mark Wrighton said that with 10 candidates in the race, the environmentalists are providing a service: "If you're a voter, it's a good thing because you get a very good reading on the candidate," he says.

MEET OFFICER JANUARY: What it's come to in Rochester, N.H.: Firefighters and police are posing for a beefcake calendar to raise money for their cash-strapped departments. Police Lieutenant Scott Dumas (that would be him, shirtless, in the hot tub with the glass of champagne) says the first printing of 500 calendars is going fast: "We've been inundated with calls," he says. "People want 10 or 20 of them."

TIME IS MONEY, PT. I: The longest line at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield last weekend was not to see the "World's Largest Rodent," or to get your name etched on a grain of rice, or even to see the Chinese Imperial Acrobats. Nope, dozens of people waited up to a half-hour for a turn at the spinning wheel at the Foxwoods casino tent. (The majority of the prizes? Tchotchkes from Foxwoods.) It's got to be a love-hate thing between New England's largest agricultural fair and the Connecticut casinos, which represent the Big E's biggest competition for the region's recreational dollars. But they seem to have made a peace: Foxwoods sponsors the fair's daily Mardi Gras Parade, complete with floats and bead tossing. August was a record month at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun; the casinos reported last week that, together, they made more than $153 million -- about $5 million a day -- in slot revenues.

TIME IS MONEY, PT. II: The best deal at the Big E must be at the Timex booth in the Connecticut Building, where you can buy a $50 watch for $10. Timex still does business in Connecticut, as does the 200-year-old Waterbury Button Co., remarkable not just for its longevity but for its odd niche. The company makes fancy uniform buttons for the military, police, and fire departments (not to mention casinos and hotels). It's also one of our oldest defense-related industries, having provided the buttons for both sides during the Civil War.

BIG EATS: On the midway, you can get a Porkchop-on-a-Stick, Banquet-in-a-Bun, Millie's Pierogis, and Heidi Jo's Ostrich Jerky. But you could also get some good regional specialties in the state buildings: Kenyon's clam cakes washed down with Del's lemonade in the Rhode Island building; Finnish pancakes and Bay State baked beans in the Massachusetts building; stuffed baked potatoes and lobster rolls in the Maine Building; and spiced pumpkin pudding in the New Hampshire building. The nomination for best food goes to the Vermont building, where you can dine on the pizza-like Vermont flatbread (with Vermont-made, nitrate-free pepperoni) and organic beer. B.J. Roche, who writes from Western Massachusetts, can be reached at peaks@globe.com

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