By Charlie Savage
CONCORD, NH – It was Mike Huckabee's party, but Ron Paul's supporters crashed it.
A group of about 30 Paul supporters surrounded an equal-sized Huckabee rally today outside the Barley House on north Main Street of New Hampshire's capital, where the former Arkansas governor was making a brief appearance to celebrate the launch of a special "Huck-a-burger." *
As soon as Huckabee’s bus pulled up outside the Barley House, the Paul supporters, all waving their own signs, began shouting "Tax Hike Mike!" The Huckabee supporters, waving their signs, tried to drown out the hecklers by instead shouting "We like Mike!"
Huckabee ignored the fans of the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman. He grinned and shook hands as he threaded his way through the crowd to the small restaurant, which was so overflowing that most of his supporters and members of the media had to remain outside.
Meanwhile, the Paul supporters continued to chant slogans about freedom and attacked the former Arkansas governor for supporting the Iraq War and a bill in the Arkansas legislature that would have allowed illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition.
Several Paul supporters said they decided to take advantage of the many reporters accompanying Huckabee -- who won the Iowa caucuses last Thursday -- because they are frustrated at not receiving the same level media coverage. They were particularly incensed by Fox News’ refusal to let Paul participate in its GOP debate Sunday night.
"The reason we’re so feisty is that we get blacked out in the media," said Paul supporter Adrian Thompson, 22, of Providence, Rhode Island. "Paul placed fifth in Iowa with twice [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani’s vote, yet he wasn’t allowed to participate in the five-man debate on Fox."
Several of Huckabee’s supporters took the confrontation in stride, noting that Paul supporters had the same right to be on the sidewalk as they did.
"They're trying to be antagonistic, but it’s freedom of speech so I can’t bash them for it," said Justin Coache of Bow, New Hampshire, who wore a Huckabee sticker. A freshman at the Christian-themed Liberty University, he added: "They’re passionate, so good for them. Huckabee’s passionate too. It makes for a good atmosphere – it’s exciting."
Indeed, all of Concord's Main Street today resembled a political Mardi Gras. Packs of supporters for different candidates, warmed by unseasonably balmy temperatures in the low 40s, occupied nearly every corner. They waved signs and tried to get drivers to honk their horns -- cheering when they succeeded, even when it wasn't clear which candidate the drivers favored.
The largest mid-day crowd – more than 75 – appeared to be a group supporting Illinois senator Barack Obama. But New York senator Hillary Clinton, Arizona senator John McCain, Paul and Huckabee also had sizable presences here.
By contrast, there was nobody in sight waving a sign for Giuliani or former North Carolina senator John Edwards, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had just one supporter in view: 16-year-old Chuck Catania, who stood on a corner by himself and waved a solitary Romney sign.
Catania, of South Windsor, Connecticut, said he thinks the former Massachusetts governor has the best experience and temperament to be president of any of the Republican candidates. But, he said, he wished someone else would join his party of one.
"I think I’m the only Mitt Romney supporter in town," Catania said. "It’s almost embarrassing."
* Designed by Barley House owner Brian Shea, a Huckaburger is a patty of herb-seared bison, tomato, and baby spinach on a whole wheat English muffin, served with deep-fried pickles. Huckabee, who famously lost 100 pounds and now watches what he eats, sampled the burger. Earlier in Concord, the campaign bus had stopped by the Bread and Chocolate pastry shop on south Main Street, where owner Franz Andlinger said Huckabee purchased a white and dark chocolate mousse cake for staffers who are having birthdays. The two brief and food-themed appearances -- along with a morning breakfast meet and greet in Mason --were Huckabee’s only daytime events in his last chance to campaign before tomorrow’s primary, although he was scheduled to give a speech -- and play guitar with a local band, the Mama Kicks -- Monday evening in Rochester.