Hanover, N.H. — The night Jesse Jackson came to town, Secret Service agents were in the kitchen at Peter Christian's Tavern, inspecting the candidate's broccoli quiche. Across the street at the Hanover Inn, German shepherds sniffed for concealed bombs in rooms reserved for Walter Mondale, George McGovern, and John Glenn.
Every four years, as America's television cameras focus on the New Hampshire presidential primaries, this small community of clapboard houses and colonial shops is invaded by the biggest names in American politics, each of them here to convince about 3,900 registered voters that they have the stuff to be president of the United States.
Now that the 1984 show is over, and New England slips into the spring ''mud season,'' Hanovarians are quietly assessing the impact of the primary on their town.
''The primary was a real boom to Hanover,'' says Robert B. Merrow, general manager of the Hanover Inn and a board member of the town's Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Merrow and other business leaders estimate that the weeks proceeding the Feb. 28 election brought in at least $80,000 to the area. This represents about 1 percent of the estimated $8 million the election brought into the state.
Most of the primary windfall came during a frigid weekend in January, when all eight Democratic presidential candidates came to nearby Dartmouth College for a nationally televised debate. Hanover's chief of police estimates that the town's population nearly doubled on the Sunday of the debate, rivaling Dartmouth's Winter Carnival weekend and far surpassing the typical flow of tourists that come for winter ski weekends.
The major benefactors of the debate weekend were the hotels and restaurants. ''Every hotel room in northern Vermont and New Hampshire was taken,'' says John Heston, director of communications at Dartmouth. Hanover Inn's Merrow says his hotel made $20,000 on a weekend that ''otherwise would have been dead.'' Lindy Vance, general manager of the popular Peter Christian's Tavern, says the debate increased its receipts by more than 25 percent.
Other businesses did not fare as well as they had anticipated. ''We expected a swell of advertising starting in January,'' says Darrel Clark, general manager of WISL-FM, a local radio station. ''It never happened.''
Mr. Clark says the campaign season netted only a third of what the station earned in the 1980 primary. The advertising pages of The Valley News, the local newspaper, were ignored by all of the candidates except Gary Hart, who paid $1, 350 for a full-page ad the day of the primary.
The onslaught that arrived for the Dartmouth included 200 Secret Service agents and over 400 credentialed members of the press. ''That's one reporter for every three Democrats in Hanover,'' says John Heston, director of communications at Dartmouth.
About 200 well-behaved demonstrators, most of them anti-abortionists coming from all over this staunchly conservative state, braved the 10-degree weather to picket the debate site. There were also the perennial election followers, those who seem to appear at every major election event in the country, advocating causes such as the annexation of Mexico.
Hanovarians, used to the slow pace of rural New England, don't quite know what to make of the invasion of characters like ''Wavy Gravy,'' a fellow whose long hair was dyed red, white, and blue. ''Nobody for President,'' Wavy Gravy's sandwich board sign read. ''Nobody cuts deficits, Nobody stops nuclear weapons, Nobody does anything!''
In the end, Hanover voters went to the polls knowing more about the candidates and the national election process than most Americans. Many of them had seen or even chatted with Walter Mondale or Gary Hart or John Glenn. But despite all the hoopla, or perhaps because of it, only half of the registered voters here bothered to cast ballots. ''After hearing every detail for weeks about Alan Cranston's baldness and Walter Mondale's blandness,'' says a waiter at Peter Christian's, ''I started tuning it all out. When election day came, I just forgot to vote.''