LACONIA — The Republican primary race for New Hampshire's First District seat in Congress is being dominated right now by two candidates, Eddie Edwards and Andy Sanborn. But there’s a third candidate, Michael Callis, who is taking the road less traveled.
And he’s also taking the road more traveled. He’s taking all the roads, in fact, as he has pledged to walk through the entirety of District One, which takes in Conway, the Lakes Region, the Seacoast and Manchester.
He started walking on July 1, and has since spent five days each week plying the main drags and back streets of District One, averaging about 30 miles each day. He started in Crawford Notch, walked down to Portsmouth, took Route 1A to Seabrook, then walked from North Hampton to Manchester. He has visited several of the small towns in between for what he calls “satellite walks,” and is spending this week walking around Lake Winnipesaukee.
For every step of the way, he has carried a campaign sign – left over from an ill-fated campaign he ran two years ago – wedged between his backpack and his back.
“It’s fascinating, it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” said the 65-year-old stoneworker, who lives on the town line between Conway and Eaton.
“I pay taxes in both towns, which is why I hate taxes so much,” he said.
In 2016, he ran a more conventional campaign, writing letters to the editor and strategically placing about 100 campaign signs. He earned about 4 percent of the vote, and expects to do better this time, using just one of those leftover signs and his two legs.
Neither Edwards nor Sanborn ran for Congress two years ago, he noted.
“As far as I’m concerned, that gives me a head start.”
Sometimes he will pick a route where he ends the day back where he started, and where he left his car. Other times he will stash a bicycle at his planned end point, so he can ride back to his car. And sometimes he will arrange for a friend to pick him up.
He figures he is seen by about 2,000 drivers each day, and as many as 5,000 on a busy day.
“They’re seeing my sign, they’re seeing a candidate walking the walk, that’s my first impression,” he said.
When he gets the chance, he will talk to them about his politics.
“Trump is shaking things up, I want to shake Trump up. I’m very critical of Trump. I think he’s red-handed guilty, and he acts like it. I’m a John McCain Republican. I prefer presidents who don’t have to pardon themselves.”
He isn’t opposed to working with Trump, though. For example, he would vote in favor of building a wall along the US-Mexico border, but he would like to see a wall that is topped with a bullet train and solar panels.
Callis also believes the state should sell marijuana in the same model that it sells liquor, and use the proceeds to relieve college loan debt. The marijuana should be grown in Afghanistan, he said, and the cultivation of cannabis could displace opium and heroin production.
“We can send drones in there to pick up the marijuana and leave the money,” he said. “Then they would welcome the drones.”
Callis, a lifelong hunter, thinks that people who want to own guns should first have some sort of safety training, and supports the banning of assault rifles.
Though he’s not a fan of the president, he believes that it’s possible to make progress while Trump is in office.
“I think Putin’s been using Trump as a useful idiot, I think it’s time for us to use (Trump) as a useful idiot,” said Callis. A student of the Magna Carta, he insists that no one, not even the president, is above the law.
His message may be unpopular with the majority of New Hampshire Republican voters, who supported Trump in the 2016 GOP Primary. He is hopeful, though, that enough of those voters will have changed their mind by the time the primary for the First District is held on Sept. 11.
He plans to keep walking right up until the primary, perhaps even longer.
“I might even keep walking after. It’s the smartest thing I ever did. I’ve lost 15 pounds so far, I feel great. I can’t wait to do it in the morning.
“I’m persistent. As long as I can see an improvement, I will continue my efforts to make the Republican Party more like it was when it started, a progressive party.”
And while he feels that he is seeing an improvement over the campaign he ran two years ago, he’ll have to wait until Sept. 11 to find out.