As a first-timer covering the presidential campaign, I expected to confirm the widely held impression that the process is dominated by vested interests, big money and powerful parties operating in the background. To my surprise, I found instead a process that can be taken at face value, in spite of the hype and intrigue. My biggest discovery was that whatever goes on in back rooms, spin rooms and newsrooms, the ordinary voter always is the central character in the drama, and the best way to understand the campaign is from the voter's point of view.
In New Hampshire, I met Carl Toepel, 76, of Howards Grove, Wisconsin. His red baseball cap was bedecked with pins he has picked up as he traveled around the country to hear candidates during every electoral cycle. Toepel, a retired school principal, is a Republican, and he proudly noted that he has attended 10 of the party's national conventions -- once as a delegate. "I love American history, and this way I get a front row seat," he said.