NEW LONDON, N.H. — Stepping out of a campaign bus Monday afternoon, Republican Scott Brown told a phalanx of news cameras that he feels momentum in his US Senate bid, brushed off sign-wielding protesters with a smile, and made small talk with patrons at MacKenna’s Restaurant.
“Who wants pie? Who wants pie?” he said, grinning, as he served slices to customers.
Speaking to scores of supporters, Brown said he is fed up with the way things are going in Washington and asked if they felt the same way.
“Yeah!” they roared in reply.
Brown was completely in his element.
New Hampshire Democrats ridicule him as a carpetbagger: He moved his primary residence to the state just last year. Brown defends his Granite State credentials, pointing to his longstanding personal and family ties here.
But Brown’s real home, on and off for the past five years, has been the campaign trail.
From his improbable January 2010 US Senate special election victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, to his grueling — ultimately unsuccessful — reelection bid against Elizabeth Warren in 2012, to his race in New Hampshire against incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, Brown has been engaged in a relentless retail campaign effort over the past half-decade.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, at MacKenna’s Restaurant for a quick visit, declared fellow Republican Brown the “the hardest-working candidate” he has ever seen.
“He never stops,” Christie said. “This is not a guy who just goes out and raises money, throws [ads] up on TV, and hopes for the best. Scott Brown goes all over the place.”
In some ways, the New Hampshire contest on Tuesday will be a test of whether the state and national mood is sour enough to sweep out Shaheen, a relatively popular incumbent and former governor and state senator.
But as results come in, they will also answer a question that has vexed political analysts: In a state that prizes candidate-to-voter contact, can more than seven months of hand shaking in overdrive propel a man who represented Massachusetts in the US Senate two years ago to victory in New Hampshire?
From a road race in Bedford, to a meet-and-greet at a Manchester diner, to a business tour in Concord, Brown has attended hundreds of events in New Hampshire. He does not always talk about big issues, sometimes conveying his message simply by showing up.
Other times he has focused on topics from foreign policy to immigration. Brown has held six traditional town hall meetings this campaign season, taking questions from the audience. Shaheen, he often notes on the trail, has not held any.
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor, said Brown has seemed to enjoy the grass-roots politicking that is particular to New Hampshire.
“Did the carpetbagger thing ever quite go away? No,” he said. “But it could have been much worse than it was.”
Democrats insist that Brown’s heavy focus on retail politics — even coupled with a dogged effort to tie Shaheen to President Obama, who is quite unpopular in the state — will not do the trick on Tuesday, in a race most recent polls have found to be very close, with Shaheen narrowly leading.
State Senator Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, said that Brown has indeed been a relentless retail campaigner, but that is not enough when running against someone with the stature and accomplishments of Shaheen.
“He does show up every place, there’s no question about it. But it doesn’t change the carpetbagger issue,” he said. “You can’t come here on Thursday, and [win] on Friday.”
But, New Hampshire voters say, meeting him does make a difference.
“He’s genuine,” said New London resident Linda Ewing Monday after meeting Brown, for whom she plans to vote.
Shaheen, for her part, has worked to paint him as an office-shopping, self-serving pol, looking out for well-monied interests and motivated by unchecked ambition — here, there, anywhere — rather than a desire to help New Hampshire.
As part of a final full day of campaigning, Shaheen, who has emphasized her specific, local accomplishments for the state, made a brief late-afternoon stop in Laconia, where she greeted supporters with tight hugs. Some were just returned from canvassing in local neighborhoods on her behalf.
“It’s all about ‘get out the vote,’ ” Shaheen said. “For everyone up and down the ticket.”
The senator made her way down the block to Willow & Sage, a vintage boutique.
“Thank you for supporting all us women in business,” Shelly Daniels-Marcoux, the store owner, told Shaheen.
Afterward, Daniels-Marcoux said she had met Shaheen for the first time at a recent forum on women in business, but felt like she had known her well for years.
“I know her from back when she was a governor,” she said. “She’s like an old friend.”
Daniels-Marcoux said she is voting for Shaheen.
“She has a track record. She has a history. She’s proven herself in New Hampshire,” she said.
Shaheen’s stop in Laconia and Brown’s in New London were part of a series of final get-out-the vote events held the day before the election.
Monday morning in Keene, Brown told reporters he was cautiously optimistic about a race into which he said he had put his full effort.
“If I’ve done my very, very best, then I can live with the consequences, whether they be pro or con,” he said. “And that’s what I feel we’ve done, is we left everything on the field and we’ve done our very, very best.”