MANCHESTER, N.H. — At the Red Arrow Diner, the temporary broadcast booth had vanished, and the campaign-related crowds that had wedged inside for days had finally eased, but still Penny Koski could only manage a few hoarse words. “Talked out,” said the waitress, who had served a burger to Donald Trump, chatted up Ted Cruz, and consented to several interviews herself, all from behind a ruby-red counter.
Over at Robie’s Country Store, a clapboard-sided, photo-filled political landmark above a river bend in Hooksett, Gary Ziemba looked up from beneath a sink that needed work and managed a fatigued smile, elated but spent. “The primary hangover,” he said. “I have it.”
And at Concord High School, the office staff arrived around 6 a.m. Wednesday to find a set of orange cones of uncertain ownership, a box of cable modems marked for Comcast, and a single overturned beer can in the snow — not bad for a school that eight hours earlier had been packed with 1,000 jubilant Bernie Sanders supporters, a few hundred international journalists, and the victorious candidate himself, not to mention Secret Service agents, a phalanx of walk-through metal detectors, and enough temporary rigging to build a bridge across the Merrimack River.
Poof. Just like that, the 2016 presidential primary was over, and the circus was gone.
New Hampshire basks in the attention that accompanies the first-in-the-nation contest every four years, especially this year, with two contested races and the 100th anniversary of the primary itself. And after a long, slow buildup of candidate visits and campaign signs, the final eight days — the period between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire vote — had brought a frenzy of campaign workers and television cameras, of phone-calling and door-knocking, of last-minute events jammed into the calendar and packed with still-undecided voters.
But Tuesday’s votes had been counted — big wins for Sanders on the Democratic side and for Trump among the Republicans, and a record turnout overall — and life in the Granite State was quickly and quietly returning to normal.
In the high school cafeteria, students were selling tickets for a “Pie Challenge” — a chance to throw pies at staff for charity — near the very spot where a big-screen TV had loomed in front of a media-filing center. Around the corner in the empty gym, the only decor was a set of maroon-and-white state champion banners mounted on cinder-block walls.
Mere hours before, Sanders had stood in this very gym behind a temporary lectern, atop a temporary stage, amid temporary bunting and an uncountable number of “A Future to Believe In” signs, and wrapped up his half-hour victory speech the same way it began — by thanking New Hampshire. The crowd roared and David Bowie’s “Starman” started to play.
That was at 9:57 p.m., the beginning of the end.
The crowd filtered out, and by the time the music stopped 41 minutes later (last song: John Lennon’s “Power to the People”) the number of reporters typing feverishly on deadline or speaking into cameras for live stand-ups exceeded the number of revelers left on the floor.
Those who lingered were not New Hampshire voters who needed to get up for work in the morning. As stagehands pulled down bunting, reinstalled a basketball hoop, and removed temporary fencing, Donald Schubert, a 64-year-old California psychologist, pulled his parka over a light jacket embroidered with peace signs, a step behind a few new friends, and the last celebrant to leave. It was 12:08 a.m.
“Bernie’s going to change the world,” said Schubert, who worked as a 21-year-old field organizer for George McGovern in ’72 and hasn’t been this excited about a candidate since.
And soon the gym belonged entirely to the stagehands from Local 195 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a crew of Granite Staters working like shoemaker’s elves to restore the high school to its natural state by morning.
“All of us enjoy it,” said Lowell Davis, pausing briefly at 3:30 a.m., with one last tractor-trailer to load, “but I know I am relieved to get some sleep after this, as most of us are.”
Not that Davis, 26, could sleep just yet. He was due in Manchester in four hours to pack up a CNN set. Beside him, local union vice president Denise Gordon, who had squeezed a total of 20 hours of sleep in over the past week, said she had go to from Concord to the Manchester Radisson, to help dismantle the media village that had been the epicenter of the madness.
Across town, in the light of day, a groggy Jonathan Emmons had mixed feelings about the morning after at the Barley House, the wood-paneled tavern that faces the New Hampshire State House and draws frequent candidate visits. “Truthfully, for my sanity, I’m glad it’s over,” said Emmons, a bartender-manager. “For my paycheck, I wish it was another week or two.”
Emmons, a 34-year-old whose beard evokes both Brooklyn, N.Y., and Berlin, N.H., said he enjoyed getting to know the many volunteers, campaign staffers, and journalists who had piled in over the last few weeks, turning a normally slow winter stretch for the restaurant industry into as busy a time as Emmons could remember. On most Tuesdays, the dinner crowd of 100-plus dwindles to a dozen at the Concord bar by 10 p.m. On the night of the primary, though, there was a fully packed house — throngs that came from the Sanders and John Kasich campaign parties, and journalists blowing off steam after deadline — when they flipped on the lights at 1 a.m.
Down in Hooksett, where a community nonprofit now owns the historic Robie’s building and where the famed country store has operated sporadically since the last Robie retired in 1997, a new generation of farm-to-table restaurateurs, Amber and Josh Enright, have been laboring with volunteers like Ziemba — a contractor who serves on the nonprofit board, and was fixing pipes under the sink Wednesday afternoon — to refashion it as a locally sourced cafe and crafts shop. They hope to open later this month.
In the meantime, they have continually unlocked the memorabilia-stuffed, tin-ceilinged landmark for candidates (Kasich, Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and many others) seeking to meet voters in the same picturesque place presidential hopefuls have been visiting for decades. “It was great to have all that, but we’re in the middle of renovations, trying to get the business back up,” said Dayna Antosh, a friend of the new owners, having just painted a wall. “Frankly, it’s a little bit of a relief that the madness is over.”
Not quite over.
Inexplicably, there was still one candidate left in the not-quite-open country store.
“I’m Mark Stewart Greenstein,” said the candidate, who was among dozens of lesser-known candidates on Tuesday’s ballot. “You might’ve seen the sign! I’m a Democrat who’s been running in the primary, but I’m a conservative.”
Greenstein had received just 27 votes in the New Hampshire race, putting him in a tie for 15th place, not counting write-ins. A former Dartmouth College coxswain who owns a test-prep business, Greenstein said he was running not because “I think I can be president” but to “punk Hillary and Bernie” and inject limited-government ideas into the race. Because he had not qualified for the next few ballots — and because he had just moved to New Hampshire from Connecticut as part of the libertarian Free State Project — he was not in a rush to move on.
That was not true of thousands who had swarmed the Radisson Hotel and Expo Center in Manchester earlier in the week, a buzzing cloud of journalists and political operatives and past and present candidates and activists and wide-eyed onlookers wielding cellphone cameras. By Wednesday afternoon, they had disappeared; the lobby was empty, save for a cleaning crew mopping the floor and washing the revolving doors.
Down the hall, at JD’s Tavern, which served as MSNBC’s all-day broadcast home for a week (and which Vanity Fair had dubbed “New Hampshire’s Booze-Soaked Ground Zero”), a sign said it would be closed for four days. In the adjacent Expo Center, what had been a weeklong bureau for hundreds of reporters now held just a few; as workers wheeled away carts, a German-speaking journalist recorded one last voiceover under a noise-dampening jacket held up by a colleague.
Nearby, some empty rooms still had signs (“C-SPAN,” one door said) that hinted at their recent purpose, but some were a mystery. One held only overflowing trash bags and scattered debris — empty ginger-ale 12-packs and a mess of wire, wadded gum wrappers and a Manchester map and visitor guide.
Two signs taped to the wall suggested valuable equipment had recently been shipped off. “To NY,” one said, while the other echoed the speech of every candidate who had received enough votes to move on: “To South Carolina,” someone had scrawled, home of the second primary.