Give them libertarianism, and a moving van
For 4,800 people seeking a bastion of hands-off rule, the most alluring state has the motto 'Live Free or Die.'
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Somma didn't even wait for the vote before moving to New Hampshire. New York's high taxes and cost of living had convinced him and his wife, who both work in publishing, to move. He liked what he read about New Hampshire on the FSP website and was excited about an alternative to the two-party system.Skip to next paragraph
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"I like seeing somebody who isn't owned by the two big names," he says. His wife was more drawn to New Hampshire's camping, hiking, and proximity to their families in New York.
Within a month, they'd settled in Keene, a college town and the rare liberal outpost in New Hampshire where a "Dennis Kucinich for President" banner hangs and a hemp-clothing store sits right off Main Street.
In many ways, Somma is a typical New Hampshire transplant. Just as liberal migrants reinforce Maine and Vermont's political cultures, more conservative types have tended to make New Hampshire more conservative.
Observers say that pattern may make it hard for FSP members to distinguish themselves in a state where the dominant Republican Party already looks like what libertarians might advocate elsewhere.
The Democratic Party hasn't been much of a presence here since the Civil War. And an antitax platform has been a GOP staple here for half a century - a view loudly reinforced by the state's leading conservative voice, the Manchester Union Leader newspaper.
"I'm somewhat dubious about how much different this might be from what we already have," says Professor Schuman.
The New Hampshire Libertarian Party could certainly use a boost. Their candidate for governor got just 13,028 last November and the number of Libertarians in the legislature have fallen from three to zero.
Here in Keene, at Lindy's Diner, where President Bush cooked up a hamburger on a campaign stop four years ago, waitress Denise Vachon says she never even heard of the Libertarians before their gubernatorial candidate showed up last year.
Mr. Sorens stresses FSP members are not just libertarians - that the group attracts people of any - or no - ideological stripe.
The group has received a mixed reception from New Hampshire's political establishment. Republican Gov. Craig Benson welcomed the group during a June picnic and released an enthusiastic press release after they picked New Hampshire. A Concord Monitor editorial labeled them nothing more than an "amusing curiosity."
Free State Project leaders say they realize that even 20,000 newcomers can't, by themselves, take over politics in a state of 1.3 million people. Instead, FSP organizers envision participants as a core of activists and volunteers, who will join the Lions Club or push for more private-school options long before they ever run for elected office.
Somma has already sat through his first three-hour city council committee debate on Keene's parkland and is helping a fellow FSP member run for the city council.
Still, he says he has a more immediate concern than politics. The Brooklyn native is adjusting to the slower pace of life. And then there's the weather "It's getting cold," he says.