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A Rule of Thumb for N.H. Primary Filing Period: Expect the Unexpected

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Andrew Walsh, NHPR
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By now, those on the front lines at the Secretary of State’s office have come to expect two distinct types when it comes to presidential candidates.

There are the ones who treat the ballot filing period like a campaign event. They bring along throngs of supporters and make sure to call ahead to check that they won’t have to share the spotlight with any competitors.

And then there are the ones who just show up.

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Those in the latter category tend to be the presidential hopefuls that you wouldn’t even find in an “undercard” debate; the longshot candidates who nonetheless want to take a shot at the White House, because they want to make a political statement -- or just because they can.

“Typically on the first day there’s a line of the lesser-known candidates trying to be the first to file,” Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said. “And sometimes the process is colorful, because they’re trying to attract attention and the limelight for as long as they can keep it.”

In the past, those “colorful” demonstrations have included an appearance by perennial presidential candidate Vermin Supreme (perhaps best known for sporting a rubber boot on his head), and an extended monologue delivered by a “costume-wearing ex-convict,” as reported by the Associated Press in 2007.

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Credit David Darman, NHPR
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks outside the State House in Concord before filing for the New Hampshire primary, October 18, 2007.

Campaign staffers for the more prominent presidential candidates, meanwhile, usually take care to carve out a time slot that doesn’t overlap with another major contender — but that doesn’t always mean they have the Secretary of State’s office to themselves.  

Sometimes those lesser-known contenders time their filing appointment with a more prominent candidate as a play for media attention, Scanlan said.

Paula Penney, an assistant secretary of state who’s been with the office for decades, helps to maintain an updated calendar of those appointments. She makes sure to let the campaigns know if another candidate is already penciled in for the same time slot.

“If someone calls in and they ask for a certain time, we’ll let them know that well this candidate has already called and said they’re coming at this time,” Penney explained. “We never refuse anyone, but typically they on their own want to pick a different time because they don’t want to be here at the same time.”

Still, it’s hard to plan for the unexpected. Penney recalls at least one time when Vermin Supreme — “the gentleman that comes in and has a boot on his head,” in her words — showed up while another major candidate was also trying to file. To her and Scanlan’s recollection, however, even the instances in which candidates overlap have been cordial.

“I cannot remember a time since I have been doing this when candidates got into a debate or an argument or some discussion that, you know, was worthy of remembering,” Scanlan said.

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