PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Five hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a campaign stop at Strawbery Banke Museum, with Vice President Joe Biden and their wives, supporters stood at a makeshift federal checkpoint, prepared to wait it out.
At the front of the line, at Court and Washington streets, was University of New Hampshire English instructor Meaghan Elliott. She brought books and coffee for sustenance and pointed to a nearby portable toilet as completing her list of needs. Elliott and fellow university instructor Brad Dittrich drove from Dover for the historic campaign stop and said they’ll take what they hear back to their classrooms. They said they teach “political rhetoric,” and together with their students analyze political speeches.
On their way to Portsmouth, the university instructors picked up an 18-year-old UNH student who said he’ll be able to vote for the first time in November and Friday’s speech could influence his vote.
Behind them, Zelita Morgan and her 8-year-old daughter, Luisa, played Scattergories on a sidewalk to pass the time. It will be the second time Luisa sees President Obama, said her father, Tom Morgan, who brought her to Pease four years ago to meet the commander-in-chief.
“We wanted to make sure we get in,” said Zelita Morgan, about their early arrival. “Just because you have a ticket doesn’t guarantee you’ll get in.”
Zelita said she wished the president and first lady well, said they have “a tough road” and came out to “give support.”
At 7:30 a.m., about 100 people waited at the checkpoint, while a group of Obama volunteers stood nearby chanting, “Fired up and ready to go.” Federal agents in uniforms and plain clothes could be seen throughout the city, in addition to local and area members of law enforcement.
At the corner of Pleasant and Court streets, Republicans gathered early to protest. Diane Bitter of Rye placed an empty chair at the intersection in reference to Clint Eastwood’s anti-Obama speech at the Republican National Convention. She said she’ll likely stay until midday and hold signs with messages including; “We can do better” and “Better off than four years ago?” Bitter was joined by fellow Rye residents Tom Pearson and Pat DuBois.
Pearson said he listened to Obama’s Thursday night speech after accepting the presidential nomination and called it “more of the same.”
“Except now it looks like he’s trying to give away free college educations,” he said.
Television trucks parked in Market Square while a news anchor interviewed a man in a mask. Most of the large contingent of media staged in the Parrott Avenue playground parking lot to be shuttled to Strawbery Banke.
The campaign stop is scheduled to begin in Strawbery Banke at 12:20 p.m. According to a White House agenda, Obama will leave Portsmouth at 2:30 p.m. for a campaign stop in Iowa and from there fly to Florida.