February 8, 2016 at 11:31 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
A presidential candidate drops in for lunch

Marco Rubio, New Hampshire primary, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks to a man at the Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — It would have simply been another snowy Monday in February in my hometown if the eyes of the political world weren’t squarely transfixed upon the Queen City on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.

I arrived at the Puritan Backroom, which is a landmark in Manchester’s North End, shortly after noon.

The hostess brought me to a small booth near the bar that provided ample room for me to work on my laptop.

I ordered fried New England clams with green beans, a small Greek salad and a diet coke before I began to transcribe my interview with New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley that I did earlier in the day at a coffee shop in downtown Manchester. The waitress who took my order brought it to the booth about 20 minutes later.

I ate a handful of clams as I continued to transcribe my interview.

A few minutes later a commotion that was coming from the other side of my booth caught my attention. I took off my headphones, looked up from my laptop and saw U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his 8-year-old son Dominick greeting some of my fellow diners.

I quickly grabbed my iPhone from which I was transcribing my interview and my camera and joined the press scrum that was surrounding the Florida Republican in front of the bar.

Rubio seemed genuinely relaxed as he spoke to diners and Puritan Backroom employees. He even told his son that he would order for him the restaurant’s famous chicken tenders.

I returned to my booth about 10 minutes later, and uploaded the pictures that I had taken to my my laptop. I then watched Rubio speak with the three people who were sitting at a table across from me.

I began to once again eat my lunch as Rubio walked to the other side of the large dining room and greeted more people. I quickly finished transcribing my interview, and before I knew it the Florida Republican and his entourage had left the restaurant.

My waitress told me that Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate who has yet to visit the Puritan Backroom that gay New Hampshire Executive Councilman Chris Pappas’ family owns and operates. Her response to my question — and in particular the almost blaze way she answered it — did not surprise me, considering that presidential candidates regularly visited the high school from which I graduated a few months after the 2000 primary.

My alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, is also a popular destination for White House hopefuls.

I left the Puritan Backroom around 2 p.m. and drove across the Merrimack River to attend a Rubio campaign event at a restaurant in the town of Goffstown. I arrived about half an hour later and read a New York Times article that said a gay man at the Puritan Backroom had had a testy exchange with the Florida Republican over his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

I honestly had no idea that the exchange had even taken place while I was there because the booth in which I was sitting was on the other side of the dining room. I nevertheless used a lot of colorful language to describe the fact that I wasn’t the one who had broken the story.

This anecdote highlights the fact that a presidential candidate can appear anywhere in Manchester at any given time, even at lunch. It also proves that a reporter who has returned to their hometown to cover the New Hampshire primary is allowed to enjoy a good meal.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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