Boots on the ground in the Granite State

Rick Santorum poses with 17-month-old Mark Stephen at a meet-and-greet on Jan. 7. By Heather Caygle

After much preparation, three days of classes and plenty of agonizing over appropriate footwear, I and 33 of my colleagues plus several professors landed in New Hampshire around 11 today. We hit the ground running, splitting up and fanning out over the Granite State to cover the primary from every angle possible.

First, I went to a meet-and-greet with Rick Santorum. Although the event said it was going to start at 2 on the web, it really started at 12:30. We got there around 1:30 and I immediately started talking to voters. Santorum was surrounded by a mountain of media–cameras, recorders, lights, mics, phones and people. You couldn’t hear what he was saying and voters couldn’t get to him.

An Occupy protester interrupted a Rick Santorum event on Saturday. By Heather Caygle

Instead of trying to talk to him,  I asked people what issues were on their minds and got one answer every time: jobs, jobs, jobs! Even in a state where the economy is better and the unemployment rate is lower than the national average, jobs and the economy are still the biggest worries. (New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is 5.3 percent compared to the national rate of 8.5 percent.) Of course, I didn’t talk to everyone in New Hampshire and I plan to talk to more people over the next few days, but it was pretty interesting that all the people I did talk to had the same answer.

Voter Kelly Desmarais said she supports Rick Santorum because he believes the national debt is "morally wrong."

Later, we went to a Democratic National Committee press conference. Both Ray Buckley, vice chair for the DNC, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the DNC and Congresswoman from Florida, spoke. Wasserman Schultz focused her attacks on Mitt Romney, basically ignoring the other candidates.

She called Romney’s candidacy “particularly flawed” and said he stands “for anything he needs to at any given moment.”

Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Ray Buckley and Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz after a press conference Saturday. By Heather Caygle

But, it wasn’t all about attacking the GOP. Since Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the shooting in Tucson, Wasserman Schultz also spoke about how her friend Rep. Gabby Giffords is doing.

“She’s speaking much better. Initiating more words and sentences on her own…Gabby is an intense, focused individual.”

Looking ahead: Tomorrow I will be waking up early to go to the Meet the Press/Facebook debate, which starts at 9am. Who came up with the idea for a debate that early? EEK! Either way, I will be reporting/tweeting from the event–albeit hopefully highly caffeinated and alert. Later it will be on to more rallies, talking to more people and probably ending up at a Jon Huntsman town hall.

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