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As Voting Winds Down, Who Is Still Wound Up?

Political Signs

The dirty snow is surely a metaphor for something.Photo: Getty Images

While the press has been running ragged up in New Hampshire, we set journalist Peter Keating to work watching the candidates to see which ones were putting in the most effort. Contrary to what the 24-hour news cycle would have you believe, some of them sleep. Some of them skip events. And some of them, well, aren’t really trying. Later tonight, we’ll bring you the results of all the hard work. For now, Keating’s report from the campaign trail begins in a predictable place:

Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Visit Here Today At 4:30pm Has Been Cancelled,” reads a sign hanging in the window at John’s Barber Shop, an old-school establishment nestled among the charming shops on Daniel Street in Portsmouth, N.H.

Of course it’s been canceled. Rudy had better things to do this afternoon than to keep grubbing for votes in a state where he’s been vying to keep pace with Duncan Hunter in the polls.

You notice something when you watch presidential candidates up close during New Hampshire primary season, when politics is still supposed to be retail, something that doesn’t necessarily come across on TV: Some of them work hard, and some don’t.

John McCain has done more than 100 town hall meetings in New Hampshire, and since the Iowa caucuses, he has been racing from event to event here giving speedy versions of his stump speech. (One talk lasted 2 minutes and 42 seconds. I timed.) John Edwards campaigned for 36 hours straight through yesterday. Every event Barack Obama holds is characterized by an attention to logistical detail by his staff that bespeaks round-the-clock planning.

Meanwhile, Giuliani has made it clear that he’s mailing it in until he can fight on friendlier terrain. Following a series of desultory appearances, Fred Thompson just up and left the state. Ron Paul left, too, allowing Barry Goldwater, Jr., to take his place on the campaign trail, so Paul could visit Jay Leno.

Mike Huckabee has feasted on the amiable walk-through — literally. Every event he goes to involves eating (and politely, but surprisingly, not much talking). On Sunday, he and his sidekick Chuck Norris held a chowder fest in Windham. Yesterday, it was on to a breakfast meet and greet in Mason, the unveiling of the “Huckaburger” at the Barley House in Concord, and a chili dinner in Rochester. The food’s pretty good — it turns out the Huckaburger is made from lean bison. And the most substantive policy discussion Huckabee’s had to engage in these past few days was about how important it is for diabetics to eat meat with multigrain or wheat, not white, bread.

Most of the candidates who are taking it easy in New Hampshire believe they have sound strategic reasons for doing so. Huckabee is already moving on to South Carolina, Giuliani to Florida. (Paul is an exception: The man raised $15 million last quarter, and between his insanely committed supporters and New Hampshire’s libertarian streak, he could have made some impact here. Instead, in the campaign’s close, he has limited himself to running odd TV spots claiming he leads the other candidates in support from active-duty soldiers.) Still, working hard is no guarantee of success; two of the candidates who have visibly busted their butts the most are Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. They give energetic speeches, engage voters, and keep giant smiles plastered to their faces. Both of them look to be trounced by Obama.

But not working hard for too long is a pretty good guarantee of failure. Sooner or later, campaigns have to convert strategy into tactics, because they need energy and results and momentum for sustenance. McCain rediscovered his zeal up here in the snow, while Thompson’s (and Paul’s) temperature has dropped to zero. Talking to Republicans on the ground today, it’s clear they are wondering whether, when Rudy starts showing up, it will already be too late. —Peter Keating

As Voting Winds Down, Who Is Still Wound Up?