Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire. (January 10, 2012)

If coverage of the Iowa caucuses unfolded leisurely, over a period of months beginning with the State Fair and Ames Straw Poll in August, New Hampshire in the 2012 cycle has been a faster-paced, hit-the-ground-running affair.

Reporter Maeve Reston has spent much of the last few months in New Hampshire, where Republican candidates have swooped in and out periodically. Only Jon Huntsman has made it a full-time endeavor, ignoring Iowa and making his stand in the Granite State. But once Iowa’s votes were finally tallied in the wee hours of Jan. 4, most of the remaining candidates swarmed the tiny state’s schools, diners, meeting rooms and airwaves. 

“The New Hampshire primary unfurls at a much more compressed pace than the Iowa caucuses,” said Robin Abcarian, a veteran national political reporter. “Lots of journalists are saying this is one of the less interesting New Hampshire cycles, since it’s a competition for the No. 2 spot. But the crowds are bigger here than in Iowa, and the place is full of tourists competing with locals to ask questions.”

Abcarian and reporters Paul West, Mark Z. Barabak and Seema Mehta arrived as soon as their Iowa obligations were complete, joining Reston, Michael Finnegan, Michael A. Memoli and Campaign 2012 Editor Cathleen Decker in the rush to cover events leading up to the Jan. 10 first-in-the-nation primary. (As a sign of how swiftly campaign coverage changes, Finnegan was soon dispatched to South Carolina to cover events there, joined by reporter Alana Semuels.)

This is a group of road warriors, plying New Hampshire’s frigid highways from morning until late-night to keep up with the candidates, reporting for Tribune’s various platforms. Many of the reporters’ initial observations go up first on Twitter, where politics junkies can find @rabcarian, @paulwestDC, @LATseema, @markzbarabak, @jamesoliphant, @maevereston and @finneganlatimes.

You can find their constantly-updating work at the Politics Now blog. And the Chicago Tribune's online avatar, Colonel Tribune, has them in a ready-made New Hampshire political twitter list you can follow, too.

Technology is their friend, most of the time. Blackberrys and iPhones allow them to craft tweets instantaneously, and produce photos of life on the campaign trail in real time. Laptops, iPads and mobile hotspots make it possible for them to find a chair in a warm place, write a quick story to be posted on Politics Now, and resume chasing their assigned candidate.  Spotty cellphone service in this mostly rural state can sometimes elicit a howl, and a desperate plea for help or patience.

It is not uncommon for reporters to tweet, blog, file articles for Tribune newspapers and be interviewed on radio or television, all within the span of a few hours.

Campaign reporting in the digital age is intense and competitive, with huge media contingents tracking every candidate. Sometimes the events are staged in places that are too small; on Monday, Ron Paul’s campaign sent out a press release complaining about that morning’s “media incident” at Moe Joe’s in Concord.

 “Dr. Paul and his family were forced to leave early after over 120 members of the press created a mob-like atmosphere that was deemed to be unsafe for the candidate, Moe Joe’s customers, and reporters themselves,” national campaign chairman Jesse Benton said, adding that the standard press corps had surged with the arrival of foreign journalists, “exceeding all expectations.”

Some of the most important reporting on New Hampshire takes place not in places like Moe Joe’s, but in Washington, where members of our news bureau’s “money team” (@thamburger, @mateagold and @melmason) mine records, filings and databases to produce stories about campaign spending, and in particular keeping track of the new “super PACs.” 

Back in New England, the pace is feverish, but the show will leave town Wednesday, no doubt to the great relief of many locals and journalists alike.

 “It’s pretty entertaining to see the locals jousting for superior status at town hall meetings,” said Abcarian, adding, “Those back-to-back debates on Saturday night and Sunday morning had a paradoxical effect of energizing and sapping everyone, candidates and press alike. “  

-- Steve Clow