A line of people stretched outside Joey's Diner in Amherst Thursday morning ahead of Scott Walker's first New Hampshire campaign event in more than a month.
Call it pent-up demand; call it curiosity; call it a candidate’s emerging base of support. Whatever it was, this much was true: the crowds waiting to see the Wisconsin governor were too big for the restaurant to hold. So the campaign staff improvised, backing up a red pickup truck to the front door.
"Were going to try to fit as many people inside the diner, standing-room only, after he arrives," one staffer told the crowd. "But he's first going to come and deliver remarks to you guys."
A few minutes later, it was Walker standing on the back of the truck, giving an abbreviated version of his stump speech to the overflow crowd.
"We took on the unions and we won," he said, recounting his record in Wisconsin. "We lowered our taxes - something you care for obviously here. We lowered by $2 billion on income, on employers, on property..."
Those inside got the full version of the speech, which included references to Walker’s blue-collar background.
"It's great to be here at Joey's," he said, "because I remember my first job as a kid was washing dishes at the Countryside Restaurant. Washing dishes. So I'm sure I could probably go in the back here and find some guys that could put me to work washing dishes.
"And then," he added, "I moved up to the big time in high school. I started flipping burgers at McDonald's."
They also heard Walker note that his calls for putting more authority in the hands of states and local governments should resonate particularly well with Granite Staters.
“You’ve lived that here in New Hampshire. You understand that probably better than anybody else in the country," he said. "That’s why I want to take money and power out of Washington and send it to the our states, on things like, on things like Medicaid, and transportation, and workforce involvement and education.”
A second rally in the afternoon, at Seacoast Harley Davidson in North Hampton, included few changes from the Amherst event: an introduction by former Massachusetts US Senator Scott Brown and a moment of silence for the victims of the fatal shootings in Chattanooga. Otherwise, the two events were much the same, with crowds cheering louder the longer Walker spoke.
If Walker is looking to boost his New Hampshire profile, this day seemed to be a good start. In the days before his campaign kickoff, the Wisconsin governor made several visits to neighboring Iowa, while other candidates campaigned here. Whether Walker’s absence ends up making a difference in New Hampshire remains to be seen, but if there are any concerns about his commitment to this state, Nashua state Rep. Peter Silva, a Walker supporter, says the governor's upcoming schedule will put them to rest.
"He'll spend plenty of time here," Silva said. "He's coming back again next weekend for a big [motor]bike ride. He plans to go through all the counties doing that. He's going to be here a lot."
Walker himself stressed several times that he plans to be back often – and when he does he’ll have some new supporters working for him. Eli Boumitri of Derry hadn’t heard of Walker until about a month ago. On this day, he was among the hundreds of people waiting to meet him and maybe get a picture with a candidate whose working-class roots seemed to strike a chord with him.
"Like he said, work hard, the American dream. That's it," Boumitri said. "That's what I like about him. He didn't inherit money. I know everybody says politicians are the same, but he's different. He is different. That's for sure."
Boumitri got what he came for – a photo, a handshake and a conversation with his candidate. On his way out, he took two yard signs and vowed to volunteer for the campaign once it sets up a New Hampshire field office. And that’s not all Boumitri promised, either: "I'm going to go get him some baklava now," he said, laughing. "Get him used to it. That's what I'm going to do."
Lebanese baklava, motorcycle tours and, perhaps, more cheering crowds: all part of what Scott Walker may end up seeing now that he's rejoined the New Hampshire campaign trail.