Dozens, pro and con, demonstrate outside

Counter event, weather may have affected turnout

Demonstrators Timothy Larkin (left), who identified himself as a Socialist, and Linda Dupere, siding with the Tea Party Movement, expressed differing opinions yesterday near Nashua High School North, where President Obama spoke. Demonstrators Timothy Larkin (left), who identified himself as a Socialist, and Linda Dupere, siding with the Tea Party Movement, expressed differing opinions yesterday near Nashua High School North, where President Obama spoke. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / February 3, 2010

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NASHUA - Maybe it was the weather, or the hour, or the lack of parking. But just a few dozen demonstrators waited to greet President Obama along the rotary near Nashua High School North before his town hall yesterday - a fraction of the hundreds who crowded outside before a similar event last summer in Portsmouth, N.H., when police were herding boisterous sign-wielders into two camps, pro and con.

Yesterday, there was plenty of room for everyone, and that made for unlikely neighbors: A “Don’t You Dare Fundamentally Transform Our Great Country’’ right next to “47 Million Need Help’’; a “Hey GOP: Try Yes for a Change’’ a few paces from “Joe Wilson was Right: You Lie and Lie and Lie.’’

From the sidewalk, the shivering sign holders mostly waited for the cheers and honks of partisan motorists, with infrequent interaction.

“We tried to talk to some folks out here who think differently on issues than I do, and the conversation this morning has not been pleasant,’’ said Zandra Rice Hawkins, 28, , holding an “Obama Rocks the Granite State’’ poster. Hawkins, from Goffstown, tried to convince a postal worker that the entire country would benefit if everyone had a government health insurance plan like hers.

“She doesn’t want to hear it,’’ Hawkins said. “And I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of people who are detractors - they don’t want to hear the truth, and they don’t want to understand the issue.’’

Not more than 20 feet away, Kathy Holmes was saying something similar, but from the opposite political viewpoint. “They call us narrow-minded, but they’re the ones that are blind,’’ said Holmes, 55, from Chichester, who teaches at a Christian school. She held an “Appeal to Heaven’’ banner inspired by the Sons of Liberty, seeking a revolution to throw off what she sees as an oppressive government.

“The country is being swiped right from under us,’’ Holmes said. “Most of us are feeling lost and abandoned by our law people, the people whose responsibility is to protect America, and they’re just sending it down the drain.’’

By 1 p.m., an hour before the president took the stage, the crowd of demonstrators peaked at about 100. And by the time the 1,000 attendees inside the high school gym spilled out after the event, the poster holders were long gone from the rotary where the school’s winding driveway meets Route 130.

Instead, those charged up in opposition to the president’s policies mostly gathered at a shadow town hall - dubbed “Stop the Spending!’’ - in a windowless hotel conference room about 3 miles down the road.

There, a crowd of nearly 250 - men in dress shirts, cowboy hats, and “I’d rather be waterboarding’’ T-shirts; women in tailored suits and sweat shirts with anti-Obama stickers - listened to Jennifer Horn, a New Hampshire radio host and Republican congressional candidate, and Stephen Moore, a free-market economist and Wall Street Journal commentator, speak out against Obama’s initiatives.

Horn said Obama seems to think he “has not explained it to us clearly enough yet.

“So he has come all the way here to Nashua, N.H., so that he can speak slowly to all of you Granite Staters and explain to you why government takeover of one-sixth of the economy is in our best interest.’’

Matt Murphy, a member of the two organizations that sponsored the counter-town hall, Americans for Prosperity and Cornerstone Policy Research, said there were several reasons why Obama’s visit drew few protesters, including temperature, timing, and the layout of security and roads at the high school, where only ticket holders could get close to the entrance.

Back at the high school, high up in the bleachers, a local couple who had volunteered for Obama lingered after the event. Geoff Daly, 64, an engineer, called Obama’s performance “very lively’’ and “extremely illuminating.’’

Next to him, Daly’s wife, Margie Frans, 57, looked dispirited, predicting a political slog ahead. Just the other day a friend told her Obama is doing a terrible job and wanted to impose death panels on health care.

Frans shook her head over the false rumor that had dogged the initiative for the better part of a year. “Still, now, in February!’’ she said.