CONCORD, N.H. — Former Florida governor Jeb Bush typically prefers paleo cuisine, but he arrived here one evening last week with a pair of key lime pies to share with local Republicans.
His gesture was more than sweet. It’s a sure indication that one of the newest events on the presidential primary calendar is attracting national attention. Bush was the fourth presidential hopeful to participate in Politics and Pie, a tradition the Concord City Republican Committee launched this year in hopes of creating an informal way for voters to mingle with candidates.
US Senator Lindsey Graham spoke at the inaugural event in March. Then came Governor John Kasich of Ohio and former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich. The committee is expecting Donald Trump to make an appearance soon, and hopes other political figures will follow. Bush’s event was the largest, drawing 100 voters, about 20 pies, and almost twice that many journalists.
“They keep getting bigger,” said Kerry Marsh, chairwoman of the city Republicans. Bush “can pick any event he wants, and he came here.”
Marsh and her colleagues spent the winter brainstorming ideas for a series of informal events that would attract presidential hopefuls and voters in the runup to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. They wanted a theme that was simple and appropriate for evenings or weekend afternoons. They mulled politics and pizza, then politics and potluck before settling on pie. (The primary is already home to two similarly named events: Politics & Eggs, a formal speaking event for candidates in Bedford and Manchester; and Politics & Pints, a radio interview held in a downtown Concord bar.)
“It’s a fun after-dinner event that people can get to,” said vice chairman Andrew Georgevits. “Who doesn’t like pie?”
The venue for Politics and Pie is a rustic lodge a few miles from downtown Concord. Known as the Snowshoe Club, it was built in 1892 by a small group of men who got together on the weekends for outdoor recreation. According to an official city history written at the end of the 19th century, the club was known for its Saturday evening dinners and hospitality. Members often hosted “distinguished men in every rank of life: statesmen, governors, famous educators, judges, literary men, artists, and many others known to fame.”
These days, the lodge is owned by a group of local men who, along with their families, use the property for events like wedding showers, funerals, and birthday parties. One of those owners is Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey, and he suggested the club as a location for the new event.
The lodge is a quick drive from the State House, but it feels rural. The exposed beams, multiple fireplaces, and decorative snowshoes make it the perfect backdrop for retail politicking. There’s also an alcove for a sound system, a roomy wraparound porch for overflow crowds, and plenty of space on the lawn to park cars and, as was the case last week, a CNN news truck.
The clubhouse is convenient for voters like Janet Shaw, a Republican from the nearby town of Bow who is looking forward to inspecting the large field of GOP candidates.
“I’m interested in hearing as many as I can,” she said, settling into her folding chair.
Shaw and the other guests were greeted by a long table covered with pies: pecan, chocolate cream, Dutch apple, blueberry, and more. Most came from a downtown bakery, but several people, including Bush, brought their own to share. While Bush shook hands in the next room, Duprey explained to a cluster of reporters that the smaller blueberries had likely been picked wild last summer and frozen.
As people filtered through the kitchen, state Representative David Hess dug into a slice of pecan pie. He likes the informal atmosphere of the new event as well as the diverse voters it seems to attract.
“It’s unpretentious,” he said.
By the time Bush made it into the kitchen, waiting reporters had shared photos of the pies on Facebook and Twitter. Bush approached the table, and the press crowded closer. He made small talk with Duprey, cracked a few jokes and answered questions about his political plans, promising to visit “pretty regularly.” Then he grinned and reached for a slice of wild blueberry.
“To hell with the diet,” he said as camera flashes strobed on the lodge’s wooden walls.