In Hell: On "Mexicans," Kiddie Beds, and Phone-Banking for Newt

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The best way to comprehend the nuts and bolts of the American political machine is to work for it. And so I did. For Newt Gingrich.

Situated in downtown Manch next to a cigar shop, the office broadcasts the message that Newt wants you to know that the good people of New Hampshire like him. Really like him. Letters from the “Newt” Hampshire-devoted proclaiming their support – “Good luck Newt! Kick butt. Be a bull” - are taped to the windows the way dollar bills line the back walls of Irish pubs. Some are hand-written, but most are culled from supporters in emails that were re-appropriated in Lucinda Handwriting font so as to give them that personalized, handwritten feel.

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When I walked in for the first time three days ago, I approached the front desk, and told the people in the room that I was interested in helping. “Great,” replied Carli Dimino, Hispanic Inclusion Leader, “do you know any Mexicans?”

I felt like I was being set up for a right-wing punchline about border control. But I wasn’t. “We’re throwing an event for Hispanics and we need bodies there. Tell them there will be free Mexican food” (because if there’s one thing local Hispanics respond to, it’s the promise of a free buffet of New Hampshire-style Mexican food). I told her I was light on Mexicans at the moment, but I took the flyers and promised to return.

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After thinking about it, the time felt right a few days later – just a few hours after the second GOP debate of the weekend, where Newt was goaded by David Gregory into calling out Romney for now-infamous Iowa Super-PAC slams on Gingrich. I assumed the Gingrich people would be buzzing. The reality is less exciting; I arrive, they usher me to a banged-up folding table out back, and hand me my weapon: a 10-inch ultra-thin laptop-phone hybrid, presumably paid for by Newt's billionaire casino bud Sheldon Adelson.

I'm suddenly itchy, and not just to leave.

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But I have a job to do. Make the calls. Know the talking points to unleash on the electorate. I'm given a bright little sheet filled with rebuttals and talking points from Newt’s greatest hits – protecting life and religious liberty; his record as a Second Amendment crusader; “moderate Mitt tax reshuffling,” which I'm to deploy to either callers who are partial to Newt, or who express that they're sweet on Romney.

But the cheat sheet isn't necessary. Of the first 50 calls I make, 25 are met with either a respectful denial to support Newt – one housewife says she thinks he's smart but carries too much baggage – or the sound of a dial tone right after I announce myself. The rest are a mix of occasional talkers, wrong numbers, and one voter who apparently died in April. I ask my handler how to mark that voter in the system: “not home.”

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At one point I wander through the office to drink in the strange Salvation Army feel of the place. Beside the peeling paint, there are missing ceiling panels, and – more alarmingly – a mysterious nook with the sort of flower-patterned kid's bed that my big bro used to beat me on in our basement while his friends watched. I picture Newt kicking off a pair of weathered Florsheim shoes during the peak of his surge in December, leaning back with the sort of evil smile that one might imagine he wears after a racy motel rendezvous with a mistress. I'm already queasy from trying to convince voters that Newt's the man with the plan. This isn't helping.

At one point there's a flutter of conversation audible from the hallway, and I start jotting down what I can hear while pouring a sad cup of the stale coffee in the kitchen. One staffer suggests that one of the rival candidates had begun a robo-call campaign. Another describes the Dixville Notch Town Hall – “a fahkin’ crackhouse” – while one supporter asks how the Mexican event is lining up: “Are the Spanish responding?”

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I trudge through each auto-connect call that the system cues up, one after another. In a former life, I did telephone sales for a corrupt UK-based B2B publisher in Manhattan, so I'm comfy blathering by phone to strangers trying to sell something that I didn’t believe in. Before I leave, a tall campaign staffer – working in his own office with the yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag stretched across the wall – praises my phone skills and asks if I'll be continuing to fight for Newt. For a moment I can picture a new career path in Presidential politics, working for whoever emerges for the GOP.

Then I remember the kiddie bed I saw earlier, which triggered a particular moment of clarity: I'd already been mercilessly whipped on a daily basis by a cruel thug and his platoon of cronies. It's just about as fun as it sounds.

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