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New Hampshire: Land Of Diversity. Really.

In New Hampshire, you are expected to think for yourself and live up to the state's motto, "Live Free or Die." (AP)

While people tend not to know much about New Hampshire, when it comes to presidential politics, the small state tucked into northern New England has some clout.

For the better part of the past week, all eyes have been focused on the 42nd most populous state, which holds its primary Tuesday. But who are the voters there, who play such a critical role in selecting the nation's next leader?

It's pretty easy to identify the classic stereotypes most outsiders associate with New Hampshire. Just ask long-time resident Earl Wingate:

"Wood smoke, maple syrup, plaid flannel jacket, crotchety, frugal," he says.

In a song called "Granite State of Mind," the band Super Secret Project has updated the old Robert Frost/Norman Rockwell caricature of the state. The song jokes that people like tipping cows, DSL service is brand new, and you might just see a moose.

Get it? New Hampshire equals boring backwater.

Let's be honest, there's a little truth to New Hampshire's reputation. The maple syrup is great. The state is not known for its nightlife, and it's tied for third with West Virginia as the whitest state in America.

So when long-time politician Ray Burton was asked to describe the state in one word, his response was surprising.

"It's diversity, I believe," he said. "Variety and diversity."

The 72-year-old Burton doesn't mean race or ethnicity, though.

"In the district that I've represented now for 34 years, out of the 263,000 people, about a third are Democrats, a third Republicans, and the other third are independents," he said.

The diversity of political thought in New Hampshire is where outsiders can begin to get a sense of what people here value.

In a state where more voters are registered "undeclared" than Republican or Democrat, you get plenty of people who can see both sides of an issue and don't mind splitting their tickets on Election Day.

There's that "independent streak" label that seems stuck on the state. In New Hampshire, you are expected to think for yourself and live up to the state's motto, "Live Free or Die."

But there's this wrinkle to it all, despite the Libertarian-like trappings. People are also expected to look out for each other.

High school senior Brian Wagner describes the time he walked into a McDonald's and saw a homeless man shaving.

"He didn't have anything, anywhere to go, and I had 10 bucks in my pocket, enough to eat, so I figured, 'What the hell am I going do with this money?'" Brian said. "And I just gave it up to him. And I wrote a note saying, 'Use it well and have a good life.'"

This soft underbelly that cuts against pretty much every assumption and stereotype of the Granite State is pretty hard to see from the outside. Instead, what these presidential candidates get is the hard shell.

Linda Bissonnette, who traces her roots back to the Mayflower, says maybe that flinty exterior is an asset come primary time.

"People that are running for office have to come here and they have to break down the barriers, break down the walls and talk," she said. "And the more they talk, the more we learn, the better we can decide are they really the character we want in the White House."

What does this all mean in terms of the kind of candidate people here gravitate to? That's hard to say.

But people care about voting; the state consistently ranks among the top states in voter turnout. And they embody and find comfort in their infamous motto.

Copyright 2014 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.nhpr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Of course, when it comes to politics, all eyes are focused now on New Hampshire. We'll be taking a closer look at the upcoming primary in New Hampshire on the program tomorrow. For now, a lot of people outside the state wonder how a place that ranks 42nd on the list of the most populous states wields so much power in election years. Part of the reason: the people, they vote and they care.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein has this profile of the Granite State.

DAN GORENSTEIN, BYLINE: It's pretty easy to identify the classic stereotypes most people associate with New Hampshire. Just ask longtime resident Earl Wingate III.

EARL WINGATE III: Wood smoke, wood smoke, maple syrup, plaid flannel jacket, crotchety, frugal.

GORENSTEIN: The old Robert Frost/Norman Rockwell caricature has been updated by the band called Super Secret Project in their song "Granite State of Mind."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRANITE STATE OF MIND")

SUPER SECRET PROJECT: (Rapping) Yeah. Yeah, I'm at the Conway. Now I'm down in Manchester. Next to Adam Sandler. But I'll be woods forever. With the 603, where it's a fact, I don't know any Hispanics and just one black guy.

GORENSTEIN: The song jokes, people like tipping cows, DSL service is brand new, you might see a moose. Get it? New Hampshire equals boring backwater. Let's be honest, there's a little truth to New Hampshire's reputation. The maple syrup is great. New Hampshire is not known for its nightlife. And like that line we just heard, it is one of the whitest states in America, actually tied for third with West Virginia.

So when I asked longtime politician Ray Burton to describe the state in one word, let's just say I was surprised.

RAY BURTON: It's diversity, I believe. Variety and diversity.

GORENSTEIN: Yes, the state that is 93.9 percent white was just described as diverse. But the 72-year-old Burton doesn't mean race or ethnicity.

BURTON: In the district that I've represented now for 34 years, out of the 263,000 people, about a third are Democrats, a third Republicans, and the other third are independents.

GORENSTEIN: The diversity of political thought in New Hampshire is where outsiders can begin to get a sense of what people here value. In a state where more voters are registered undeclared than Republican or Democrat, you get plenty of people who can see both sides of an issue and don't mind splitting their tickets on Election Day. There's that independent streak label that seems stuck on the state.

Look, in New Hampshire, you're expected to think for yourself, live up to the state's motto: Live Free or Die. But there's this wrinkle to it all. Despite the Libertarian-like trappings, people are also expected to look out for each other. Like the time high school senior Brian Wagner walked into a McDonald's and saw this homeless guy.

BRIAN WAGNER: I saw him shaving in the bathroom, you know? You know, he didn't have anything, anywhere to go. And I had 10 bucks in my pocket. I had enough to eat. So I figured, what the hell am I going do with this money? And I just gave it up to him. And I wrote a note saying, you know, use it well and, you know, have a good life.

GORENSTEIN: This side, this soft underbelly that pretty much cuts against every assumption and stereotype of the Granite State is pretty hard to see from the outside. Instead, what these presidential candidates get is that hard shell.

Linda Bissonnette, who traces her roots back to the Mayflower, thinks maybe that flinty exterior is actually an asset come primary time.

LINDA BISSONNETTE: People that are running for office have to come here and they have to break down the barriers, break down the walls and talk. And the more they talk, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the better we can decide are they really the character that we want in the White House.

GORENSTEIN: What does this all mean in terms of the kind of candidate people here gravitate to? That's hard to say. But people do care about voting, consistently ranking among the top states in voter turnout. And they embody and find comfort in that infamous motto.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRANITE STATE OF MIND")

PROJECT: (Singing) Everybody pump your fist and yell, live free or die.

GORENSTEIN: For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein in Concord, New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRANITE STATE OF MIND")

PROJECT: (Singing) New Hampshire... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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