NASHUA – John Smith and Linda Cardello were looking for their weekly fix of curry chicken pie and fish and chips when the Obama party put a spin on their date.
"I said, 'There is a lot more people here than usual,' " Cardello, 54, of Nashua, said of the 70 or so people who had already filled the tables of Peddler's Daughter minutes before Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., arrived to meet and talk politics.
Arriving in a silver sports utility vehicle at the front of the Irish pub and restaurant at about 5:45 p.m., the presidential hopeful, with the sleeves of his powder blue shirt already rolled up, ducked through a pack of secret service police and into the establishment where bartenders Dan Mancini, 27, and Brian Clark, 22, were waiting to shake his hand.
For Smith, 58, an English transplant and Manchester resident who just got his green card, the spectacle was a bit of education on his future voting practices once he becomes a U.S. citizen.
"I am kind of just watching the show," he said.
The show was quite the spectacle, according to those watching as Obama worked the room, starting with the tables at the front, standing as he spoke with some of the patrons and sitting down with others.
"This is what New Hampshire is all about," city mayoral candidate Jim Tollner said as he watched Obama move from table to table.
Some of the tables were filled with local supporters – many wearing Obama stickers – who beamed as Obama took pictures with them and offered parting words of encouragement as he moved on.
Other undecided voters had a number of questions for the senator once he got to them, among them Richard and Elizabeth Foemmel and friends Betsy and Paul Smentek.
"I am very impressed with him, what I have seen of him so far," Paul Smentek said, adding he and Betsy saw Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
Smentek, a director for an electronics company, questioned the senator about outsourcing.
"He had an excellent answer on what we needed to do here in North America to keep that business, that one of the keys was our children, so that we make sure that we remain competitive against those professionals that are developing now in China, that have developed already in India and other places outside the U.S.," he said.
The Foemmels, North End residents since 2002, he a retired biochemist and she a retired first-grade teacher, have an Obama intern living with them, but say they are still undecided. The couple is impressed with Edwards, and Elizabeth likes New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
"I think the Democrats really have some outstanding candidates," Elizabeth Foemmel said.
Yet their short meeting with Obama was convincing, they said.
"What I like about him is that he's just so forthright and honest with his beliefs. When you hear him speak, you really feel like he is saying what he really believes," Richard Foemmell said.
"Sometimes it is popular. Sometimes it isn't popular, but he says what he thinks, and I think that is very refreshing."
Working his way to a nearby table, Obama sat down next to city resident Jan Teeboom and began addressing that group's questions about health care and energy.
Teeboom, wife of Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, had specific questions about corn ethanol and the inflation it has caused among meat and dairy products.
"He said there is other ways to make ethanol, like with wood chips," she said.
Teeboom, an independent who has been a Democrat and a Republican in the past, said she was impressed after their short conversation.
"He didn't have the political polish. He was more earthy, and he touched the roots of what we were looking for," she said.
"He has done a lot of research. He is on the ball. I like the guy," she said.
Within a span of an hour, he had made his way to the back of the room speaking directly to 11-month-old Kate McGee.
"Your parents are pretty impressive," Obama said looking into the baby's blue eyes.
The little girl's parents, family doctor Mary Merkel and Chip McGee, assistant superintendent of schools in Bedford, had been discussing the shortage of family practitioners and various education issues.
"He knew the federal implications in both our lines of work like the back of his hand," McGee said.
Litchfield resident Nathan Cooper, 23, wasn't so enamored after speaking to Obama, he said.
Sitting at the bar drinking a beer with friend Jake Daly, 23, of Hudson, Cooper, a recent Southern New Hampshire University graduate, was quick to ask the candidate a few foreign policy questions, which he said Obama dodged.
"I am not too particularly fond of him because I look at foreign policy matters, and he seems to have the same rhetoric," said Cooper, a political science major who now works at Fidelity.
Daly also was not very impressed.
"There is nobody that really stands out. I want to hear something new. Anything," Daly said.
Cooper gave the senator another go as he was leaving, following him out the door and peppering him with more foreign policy questions while Obama's staff attempted to scoot the senator into the vehicle.
Before leaving, Obama spoke with Tollner, shaking the mayoral candidate's hand while wishing him good luck.
"Keep knocking on doors," he said.