At his town hall meetings, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey — a state known for its rough-and-tumble politics — usually warns the crowd that he’ll give back as much heat as they give him.
But last month in Pella, Iowa, a voter offered this: “Thank you for taking time out of your career to run for president.”
That’s Iowa nice.
Four days earlier, Christie was in New Hampshire, holding a similar town hall meeting in Hooksett in the wake of a blizzard that had swept the Northeast. But instead of flattery, a resident posed this: “Why are you here in New Hampshire campaigning instead of there helping, surveying the damages done by the coastal flooding from the storm?”
That’s New Hampshire blunt. And as presidential candidates move on from Iowa’s Monday night caucuses to campaign for the first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 9, they will confront an entirely different kind of voter.
“Sometimes for these candidates, going from Iowa to New Hampshire can be like getting out of the hot tub and jumping right into a cold pool,” said Neil Levesque, the executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
New Hampshire residents often skip the niceties. They have no problem interrupting a candidate mid-sentence. They get right to their questions, never mind thanking the White House hopefuls for coming. (Why? They must ask for their vote anyway).
While New Hampshire voters can have a sense of entitlement — many believe it is their right and duty to vet the candidates — many Iowa voters display a “we’re-just-happy-you’re-here” approach. They pose their questions politely. They thank reporters for showing up, wish them an enjoyable stay in Iowa, and sometimes offer to pray for them.
“Iowans are no less passionate about politics, but they have a Midwestern suppressed approach where they keep bad thoughts to themselves,” said former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who ran for president in 2012. “New Hampshire voters, like the Northeast in general, tend to be more direct about it.”
In the last week before the caucuses, one Iowa voter punctuated his remarks to a female reporter with frequent “yes, ma’ams,” while another gave up his seat at a packed rally for 10 minutes while his daughter was interviewed. Another voter said he “hoped” to see additional candidates, but was just thankful Donald Trump came to his town.
“Iowa nice is a big deal,” says Amy Meyer, a marketing analyst from Urbandale, Iowa. “It’s a really big deal. It’s way different than I understand what happens in other places.”
Two days before Christmas, Hillary Clinton campaigned in Keota, Iowa, after three students from the small town requested a visit. At a town hall meeting there, a 10-year-old girl asked Clinton what could be done about bullying. The fifth-grader said she had asthma and she heard classmates talking about her. The crowd responded with an audible “awww.”
After a brief holiday break, Clinton was in Derry, N.H., where a Republican state representative heckled her from a few feet away, shouting questions about her husband’s personal transgressions.
“You are very rude, and I’m not ever going to call on you,” Clinton said looking directly at the woman. “Thank you.”
In New Hampshire, Trump rallies in particular can get rowdy. At an event in Rochester in September, the first question Trump took was from a man asking him when the country could “get rid” of Muslims. A month later, a young woman began her question with “maybe I’m wrong, maybe you can prove me wrong, but I don’t think you’re a friend to women.”
Rod Webber, a peace activist from Boston who wears flowers in his long beard to campaign events, has been kicked out of Trump events twice.
New Hampshire has heard all the nice statements and the platitudes, said Levesque, who worked as a Republican aide for years in the presidential primary.
“These voters want the specifics, and if you don’t answer their question, they will quickly ask a follow-up question,” Levesque said.