"There are huge traffic jams on the roads, even on the highways," says Trent, who is barnstorming to rallies across the state as part of her ongoing research project into what voters see as ideal traits in a presidential candidate. "New Hampshire residents have always been engaged when it comes to this process, but I don’t think I’ve ever before seen a level of engagement from them like this."
New Hampshire will hold its presidential primary election on Tuesday, Jan. 8, only four days after the initial contest of the 2008 presidential primary season, the Iowa caucuses. With surprise winners in Sen. Barack Obama on the Democratic side and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on the Republican side emerging from Iowa, the fascination with what will happen next in New Hampshire is extreme.
"This is the first time in a long time that things have been this open," says Trent. "There is no incumbent president or vice-president in this race on either side. Both parties have so many candidates in contention, and those candidates seem so inspired."
On Sunday alone, Trent was able to attend rallies for four different candidates, and she has seen firsthand since arriving in the middle of last week every candidate with the exception of Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich.
"I have seen a lot of reaching out. There’s so much talk about change and hope, and even among the Republicans, a good deal of talking about the problems of this country and what people are facing," says Trent. "The candidates seem quite willing to talk to people, but they also seem exhausted. But they sure do put on a front (in public)."
Among the Republicans, Trent says there seems to be a sense that Sen. John McCain is well-positioned for New Hampshire.
‘Obama-mania’ has moved from Iowa to New Hampshire among the Democrats. "In all the years I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen crowds as large as Obama is drawing," says Trent. Still, many voters are raising their hands at these events when the question is asked about who is still undecided. And Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Edwards each have packed their own events this weekend.
Even a candidate thought of as being in the second-tier – Republican congressman Ron Paul – packed 180 people into a television studio for an event on Sunday that Trent attended.
"This year is truly a phenomenon," says Trent.
As an expert who studies political communication on the campaign trail, she has come away impressed, too.
"It’s more interesting rhetorically than ever before, and there really are more skilled communicators in this field than ever before," Trent says. "I just came from a John Edwards event – he’s a wonderful speaker, and he’s not the only one. It seems they each are going for a different cut of the pie in their approach."