DURHAM, N.H. - In 2008, some commentators couldn't resist drawing parallels between Ron Paul's Republican presidential run that year and Howard Dean's Democratic challenge four years before.
There were, and remain, certain themes in common - the crusading, anti-war messages; the passionately committed support base, heavy on young people and converts newly-drawn to activism.
But it was in the parking lot outside of a Ron Paul rally in a hanger at Nashua's tiny airport that pointed to perhaps the most telling similarity between Paul's 2008 and 2012 bids and Howard Dean's challenge in 2004.
A long walk through a packed parking lot to a Dean rally would serve up license plates from all over the Northeast: New York, Massachusetts, Dean's own Vermont. New Hampshire plates, on cars driven by voters actually eligible to vote in the Granite State's primary, were in the minority, maybe not even making up a plurality.
If you could squeeze inside the rally hall, you discover that the energy was palpable. Dean would be greeted like a rock star every time he leapt onstage. The crowd lapped up the best lines, roaring its approval.
It all conspired to create the false impression of a snowballing momentum, reassuring his fans that his Iowa showing and "scream" speech were receding into the past, Dr. Dean was back in the race.
Dean fans from other states descended onto New Hampshire, hoping to volunteer, but wound up following their candidate from event to event. Privy to event logistics info, they arrived early, filled up the rooms and cheered lustily. The result was that real, curious, civic-minded, undecided New Hampshire primary voters - the very folks that any campaign wants to reach and win over - were forced to strain to hear over a closed-circuit TV in the overflow room, or, worse yet, turned away at the door.
In that Nashua airport parking lot cars festooned with Ron Paul signs, stickers and slogans cars had plates from as far away as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia; even as far afield as North Dakota and Kentucky (the latter did have one "Rand Paul, U.S. Senate" bumper sticker, too.) There did seem to be a slightly larger minority of New Hampshire plates at Ron Paul's rally than those Dean rallies in 2004, and Paul devotees from other states were probably much more envious than Deaniacs of those Granite Staters who get to cruise around with plates that read "Live Free or Die," even if there were mandated by the government.
At a town hall on the University of New Hampshire campus here in Durham this evening, a host of faces were recognizable from this afternoon's rally. And, again, non-New Hampshire-ites were well represented. (A question from the audience was prefaced with "I came up here from Rhode Island.) Outside the hanger, post-rally that afternoon, groups of (mostly) young people angled for rides to upcoming Paul rallies.
The Dean rallies created an illusion that would prove bitterly dispiriting when primary night results rolled in. Polls are indicating a strong, respectable showing for Paul, but ingredients are here at events on this pre-primary campaign swing that seem to be building up expectations among Ron Paul's true believers that will probably disappoint them, just like Howard Dean fans were eight years ago.