In N.H., A Tea Party Sympathizer Goes For Romney

Ahead of the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, WBUR will look at GOP politics in the Granite State through the lens of the tiny town of Mont Vernon and the city of Rochester.

ROCHESTER, N.H. — You get to the empty shell of Packy Campbell’s real estate development business by heading three miles west from Rochester along the commercial strip on Route 11. His pickup truck is the only vehicle in front of his two-story building.

This Republican businessman’s views have been shaped by several traumatic events in his life. Seventeen years ago, a man walked into the place where Campbell worked. It was not good.

“(He) called me by name, walked me out back and put a gun to the back of my head,” Campbell said. “When I was 24 years old, I got shot twice in the head with a .38 at point-blank range. I have two bullets still lodged in my body. I didn’t work for four and a half years.”

Cambell was angry for a lot of reasons. One of them was because he was shot by a man a judge had ordered held without bail. It was a Democratic politician who ordered the man released.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: A look at Rochester, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

CLICK TO ENLARGE: A look at Rochester, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Eventually, though, Campbell got married. He had five children. And then one day, seven years ago, he found out that being shot in the head would not be the worst thing that would ever happen to him.

“My 2-year-old son died in my arms,” Campbell said, tears filling his throat. “There’s nothin’, there’s nothin’ that can happen to me that’s ever going to be as bad as that. And to the degree that I feel grief and blame for that, I do. But here’s the deal: I’ve got to deal with that. I’ve got to deal with that and accept my role and my responsibility. I left my keys in my car and my son played with them and my car rolled.”

That traumatic experience reinforced Campbell’s sense of personal accountability.

“If you want to sit down and whine about life, I tell you there’s nobody out there that has a harder, tougher story than mine, OK?” Campbell said. “But I ain’t lookin’ to win that award, because that’s what the liberals want to win. They want to have the ‘poor me’ debate and they want to have the ‘look at this hard-luck case.’ ”

But Cambpell doesn’t see himself as a hard-luck case. He believes in self-reliance and he thinks the country should encourage it more. In the Republican presidential primary, he thinks the candidate who best serves that philosophy is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“For me, Mitt Romney’s message is, ‘Believe in America, assume the best in people and know that we can take care of us,’ ” Campbell said. “That’s truly, when you think about it, a very Tea Party-ish philosophy. (They believe) in the individual and the individual responsibility, so does Mitt Romney.”

There’s another reason Campbell supports Romney.

“I want to get behind a candidate that I think can beat Barack Obama,” Campbell said.

But Campbell also agrees with the Tea Party that the country can’t borrow its way out of its problems. He learned that the hard way through personal experience.

“For me, Mitt Romney’s message is, ‘Believe in America.’ “
– Packy Campbell

“I made some poor choices,” Campbell said. “I made some mistakes in business, but the best thing I can do is be honest with myself. And the honesty came when I had to make a decision to file bankruptcy, and now that I’ve made that decision, I can say, ‘Where do I go from here?’ ”

Campbell is trying to sell his offices. He has already had to lay off 35 people. And as a realtor, he’s pushing a lot of short sales, even though New Hampshire has one of the best economies in the country, with unemployment around 5 percent.

“New Hampshire is in a unique situation,” Campbell said. “We have very low unemployment, but we still have a very, very high amount of foreclosures — a very, very high amount of short sales.”

To demonstrate why he thinks the government is making the housing problem worse, Campbell and I went for a drive in his pickup truck. We went past the booming commercial strip on Route 11, past the gun factory that just closed and onto Main Street with its empty storefronts. And we took a right turn into what is considered the roughest neighborhood in Rochester.

“The government shouldn’t be in the business of renovating these buildings,” Campbell said.

Here, the federal government has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars to refurbish some of the ramshackle multiple-family houses. But Campbell is frustrated that these houses, with their luxury appointments, aren’t getting rented.

“Here’s a building that now, it’s sitting vacant,” Campbell said pointing to a spotless renovated house. “It’s in beautiful shape, and you know, it’s a nice building. It came out nice, but they put granite counter tops in it, and now, they’re trying to find a tenant. These have been back on the market now for six months and they haven’t sold.”

Campbell believes his own life would also be better with less government interference. His own bankruptcy, having to lay off 35 people and making a living in the worst economic times since the Great Depression are all things Campbell believes he can best overcome if the government stays out of his way.

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  • Rh

    Mr. Campbell’s plight is humbling.
    That being said, he chose the Chapt 11 option: the anti-self accountable way.
    Just an observation…

  • Elle

    Fred Thys story about Romney supporter Packy Campbell surely was ironic. Mr. Campbell, who seems to have made some bad choices, inveighs against government and claims to be taking responsibility for his bad decisions. But bankruptcy is about the largest government benefit out there. Mr. Campbell’s 35 employees will lose their jobs, while Mr. Campbell will be shielded from his debts.

  • Anonymous

    He thinks life would be better with less government interference, yet he declares bankruptcy?  Isn’t that government interfering?  I wonder how the people to whom he owes money feel.

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t the teabaggers prefer he go to debtors prison? 

  • bibliotequetress

    While I am a fan of WBUR for regional reporting, I feel like they dropped the ball in not mentioning that “Packy” Campbell is a former Republican state representative who appears in ads for Romney. He was also courted by McCain in the last election cycle, getting a personal visit at his now-bankrupt business. And the Wall Street Journal, of all places, has questioned some of Campbell’s business practices. While Campbell deserves our sympathy for the losses he has suffered, he is no “regular guy” thinking about voting for Romney. 
    Wall Street Journal article 
    Boston Globe, on McCain & Romney visiting Campbell: 
    Snarky yet comprehensive Wolfrum blog:

  • praun

    I respect Fred Thys’s reporting, but this ‘portrait’ of a N.H. Republican supporter strikes me as a very poor choice, especially after reading the comments already sent in, including his role in state government.  If I were a N.H. Republican, I’d be insulted that this man was being given all this air time to voice his views, when he has made terrible choices in his life, and is not managing things well.  While I certainly understand his anger about his assailant having been released against a judge’s recommendation, I wonder what kind of public supports he received during his 4 1/2 years of recovery?  Why should we listen to his judgments and opinions?  We already tried the no-interference approach during the last recession, and it failed miserably.  I wonder if folks think they’re honoring history by holding up the constitution, but then skipping over all the rest of American history, especially all the economic and environmental abuses committed by businesses over the last two centuries, when government let them run things without interference.

  • Richard

    I see a lot of pooh-poohing Campbell’s story here, but I can tell you where he is spot-on.  I have lived in Rochester NH for 20 years and have watched it descend into a pit of tax-dollar dependent layabouts.  What is wrong with America is as made very clear if you drive down Lafayette Street in a Thursday afternoon.  You will see nothing but able-bodied adults sitting around doing nothing, except smoke and drink.  People that have long since figured out how to work the system so that they themselves don’t have to work.  I’m bi-polar, give me a crazy-check, Uncle Sam.  I have 4 kids to feed, where’s my EBT card and section 8 free housing?  I’m bummed out!  I can’t work!  Give me my SSDI!  It’s disgusting, and it brings home the fact that as long as we allow this kind of vagrancy and shiftlessness to be supported by taxpayer dollars, it will continue, and we will become a worse nation for it by the day. 

    • Rhourin

      Is this based upon personal knowledge of individuals you know on welfare/assistanc, or is this your general perception? Every society has individuals that take advantage of the system, but most poor people aren’t educated or informed enough to even conceptualize doing this. My ex-wife was unemployed for 24 straight months before she finally gave up in frustration and moved back to Sweden- where there was more economic equality, opportunity and social safety nets.
      I guess there was a lot of vagrancy and shiftlessness during the great depression as well.

      • Richard

        Rhourin it’s a combination of both.  I know some people that have gotten themselves set up with the whole shebang and spend their days popping pills and watching TV.  Believe me that there are plenty of poor people on Lafayette Street that have raised gaming the system to get all the public assistance they can to an art form.  They get advice from friends/family that have learned how to work it.  For these people they have realized that they can do better by way of public assistance then by working.  And you can’t compare what they are doing to people who fell on hard times during the depression.  These guys on Lafayette Street do this in good times and bad. 

    • bibliotequetress

      Richard, if you know people committing fraud to receive federal assistance, financial or otherwise, it is imperative that you report it. This is particularly true of disability based benefits such as SSDI, or VA or RRB disability. People who become totally disabled are in dire need of these benefits– the process for receiving them is long and arduous, and most have been out of work for 1 to 3 years by the time they receive their first check. There is little enough already going to the people who need this money.

    • Ted

      What would you do if you worked 60 hours a week and were still under water with basic needs, food, clothing, and shelter for your four children?  How about some decent jobs that pay a wage you can live on. But noooo, the profit goes to the top and the bottom are indentured slaves.

    • NYNY

      Not everyone on SSDI is cheating the system or throwing pity parties & excuses as why they cannot work. There are thousands- millions of Americans who did work but either developed MS, and went downhill fast – from a fully functional person to a paralyzed, immobile and practically helpless person, or someone who was paralyzed during a routine surgery and woke up with no feeling in both legs, or one arm and one leg and like the person with MS, relies on a home health aide 7 days a week for help getting up out of bed, dressed, showered, fed, help w shopping, keeping up the home.
       For millions of people MS strikes without warning. From health conscience to smokers – MS does not have rhyme or reason who it strikes.
       Same with paralysis – One day you are working, going to the gym, and living a full life, the next you are being told you will never be able to use that one leg or arm again – and live with chronic, daily pain from muscle spasm, tone and secondary issues, like losing control over your bowels.
        I am sure millions of disabled, non working adults would LOVE the opportunity to go back to work — if anything just to fill their day doing something productive. Something they used to enjoy doing, like fixing a computer, repairing cars, fixing up homes, painting homes, or out meeting people selling homes. Something productive to use the brain that still functions and is cognizant of the rotten feeling everyday when there is nothing to do, or to get rid of discomfort, or the stress and lonliness everyday from not being able to function like a normal person.

      I agree; I see many people who are not working that ARE abled-bodied, or WHO do have activities outside the home that fills their day other than work – and I say they should be working as well.
      But for some of us that have lost use of 2 or more limbs and basic life activities are out of reach, I say thank the stars we live in America. I paid into the system for many years, and now that I need it, it is there.

      All these politicians and tea partiers forget 1 thing: Social security had a surplus until Congress started to raid it; bleed it bone dry; leaving IOU’s.

      The REPUBLICANS started HB-1 Visa’s…MOSt if not ALL companies are allowed to hire a HB-1 Visa holder for LESS money vs hiring an American with equal education, experience but for a lot more than a foreigner. The companies are happy; they are recording record profits.
      But many college educated engineers, scientists, programmers, etc are on unemployment unable to find work. Why get a PhD if you cannot even find work where your education affords you a higher pay than a foreigner with a BS degreee?? 
      Or to that extent Republicans do not want to deport or give amnesty to illegals because corporate America is enjoying the rewwards of cheap labor.

      NOW all of the sudden Social security needs to be abolished?? 
      What about Congress stop giving itself raises and look towards fulfilling those IOU’s that date as far back as the 80′s..????
      When Americans are given priority over an HB-1 applicant [State of NJ, NY] many Americans will come off unemployment.

      Before any disabled American should be told to “suffer and starve”, we should 1st enact a lifetime limit on Welfare & section 8 benefits. Why has no candidate or President done that?? One word….VOTERS.

  • Cap R

    I just love it when clueless younger baby-boomers and gen-Xers [my generation] try to act tough by talking about “sacrifice”: they haven’t slightest clue about that. Look to the Greatest Generation for examples of leadership and what they had to endure and achieve: The Great Depression, WWII, Korea, prosperity, civil rights legislation.  How did such a great generation produce such cream puffs?

  • VietVet

    Good thing the “demon government” has a program called bankruptcy, or you might be in debtor’s prsion until you paid off all your creditors.  Hope in the four years you were unable to work you didn’t take any “government’ relief, such as medicade, unemployment insurance, or assistance with hospital bills, after all those are all socialist programs, right?

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