Like a solicitous maitre d', Bill Gardner, the amiable New Hampshire secretary of state, welcomes each presidential candidate who walks into his high-ceilinged State House office. And between the fourth and the 15th of December, a gallimaufry of folks do just that. For during those two weeks, anyone with $1,000 and the nerve can get on the ballot in the nation's first primary.

During the past week, more than a dozen people perched themselves behind the same tatty 1819 writing table to fill out the Declaration of Candidacy form, which is kept on the shelf right next to the application forms...

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