WOLFEBORO, N.H. — Around this summer haven, residents say the Romneys are a common sight, often after the dinner hour, at Bailey’s Bubble.
Mitt, Ann, perhaps the boys — who are not boys anymore, though that’s what everyone around town still calls them — and the grandkids queue up at the ice cream stand. Surrounded by sticky-fingered youngsters, they greet fellow Bermuda-shorts wearers.
“They are very much a presence in town,” said longtime resident Pat Anderson, displaying a common neighborly fondness for the former Massachusetts governor known for keeping a low profile in town.
This week, as the Romney clan descended on their lakeside compound for their first extended stay since Romney became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, residents are getting a taste of what a Romney presence in Wolfeboro would feel like should he capture the White House.
Now, Romney is accompanied by a growing entourage, with Secret Service agents on alert and police boats guarding the waters near his shingled home, shooing away gawkers who get too close. Media have moved in, renting boats and using long lenses to get a better look at the Romneys and answer crucial questions such as: Does Romney paddleboard? (Indications are that he does. He bought four paddleboards at Dive Winnipesaukee during his last visit to town.)
But a nominee is not a president. And should Wolfeboro become the Summer White House – a New Hampshire equivalent of Walker’s Point in Maine or the LBJ Ranch in Texas – residents say change would surely come to this town of mountain vistas, power boats, and floral quilted totes.
There’s the traffic, already tangled on Main Street on summer days and likely to turn knottier as more tourists arrive to glimpse America’s version of royalty. Stores and public spaces could be blocked by the Secret Service when Romney is here. But to some, it’s the psychic shift that would be most significant.
“It’s hard to think of giving up our little town to the nation,” said Guinevere Boston, a film and drama teacher at Brewster Academy, a boarding school in town.
In these dog days of summer, when presidential campaigns tend to motor along in low gear, visible support for Romney is budding. Signs pop up here and there, including one nearly as big as the side of the barn where it was posted.
Subtle Romney pushback is detectable by the discerning. At the Country Bookseller, a book penned by Romney, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” was turned spine-down on a shelf Monday, a suggestion of disrespect quickly rectified by the owner, Karen Baker, who noted the neutral political affiliation of the store.
To be sure, this is a Republican-leaning town. There are 2,684 registered Republicans and 1,233 Democrats. But there are also 2,619 undeclared – otherwise known as independent – voters, according to town records. And while the town voted Republican in the past three presidential elections, John McCain won Wolfeboro by just 105 votes in 2008.
Henry Pollak, an importer from White Plains, N.Y., who has owned a home in Wolfeboro for 35 years, predicted a swing to the right this election year.
“If Wolfeboro becomes the Summer White House, all property values in Wolfeboro will go up,” Pollak said. “Therefore, if both Democrats and Republicans in Wolfeboro have the intelligence I think they do, then they will vote for Romney.”
To which his son, Bill Pollak, a lawyer in New York, gently retorted: “The Fourth of July parade used to be overtly Republican. Now I see Wolfeboro as more split, and a sense of enlightenment has wafted over the town – despite Romney.”
This year, as he has before, Romney is expected to march in the July 4 parade.
To be sure, he is not the only high-wattage character about town. Actress Drew Barrymore has visited, as has talk-show host Jimmy Fallon.
“I ran into Sarkozy at Hall’s Pharmacy,” said Maria Varney, a resident of 39 years, referring to the former French president, who visited in 2007.
This is, after all, New Hampshire, where high-level politicians come through quadrenially for the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
All of which permits the Romneys a degree of privacy. “Most people just leave him alone,” Varney said.
Of course, that could change come November. It is unlikely that a sitting president could buy Boar’s Head Ovengold Turkey Breast down at Hunter’s market – as Romney is wont to do, according to one former deli worker — without causing a major stir.
Perhaps predictably, views of a Wolfeboro dominated completely by the Romneys break along partisan lines.
“I’d like to see him win, and I’d be very happy about it,” Varney said.
Barbara Woodard, a Democrat, said: “I wouldn’t worry about Wolfeboro so much as what would happen to the country.”
But all the talk about Wolfeboro’s future could be just that, because there’s no telling whether Romney will be in Wolfeboro much, Varney said.
“He does have five homes, right?” she said.
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