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My lunch with a zero percent candidate

MANCHESTER, N.H. — At 2:40 p.m. today, Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore, who is polling at zero percent, sat back down at his table at the Puritan Backroom to finish his pastrami sandwich and fries.

Gilmore had started his meal before getting up to greet a pair of potential voters on primary day at this iconic family-owned restaurant in northern Manchester.

Now Gilmore had roughly 20 minutes left to eat the rest of his lunch before moving on to his next campaign stop, but he seemed in no particular hurry to answer a reporter’s questions.

“If I had the kind of media coverage of any of the other remaining candidates, I’d be the front-runner today,” said Gilmore, who was neatly dressed in a dark suit and red tie.

Gilmore ticked off his qualifications for the presidency: former attorney general and governor of Virginia, Army veteran, national security expert.

“I’m the right person to be the next president, because I have the experience and knowledge to handle the issues facing the country,” he said, as an aide at his table checked the time on her phone.

Gilmore expressed surprise that his message hasn’t broken through the crowded GOP primary field, which has been dominated by Donald Trump and other figures with far less government experience.

“I would’ve thought that the positions Trump is taking to scapegoat people on the basis of their ethnicity, race and religion would put a stop” to his candidacy, he said, and then added, “It has not.”

Trump has been leading in New Hampshire for months, and appeared poised to win the primary here and advance to South Carolina atop the GOP polls.

Gilmore seemed equally flabbergasted that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was in position to win the state’s Democratic primary over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I can’t imagine why Bernie Sanders would be competitive at all, but there’s a lot of anger in the country today,” Gilmore said. Sanders, Gilmore said, “understands the anger and is directing it at a fictitious robber baron class that doesn’t really exist.”

Watch the PBS NewsHour Democratic Primary Debate, 9 p.m. EST Feb. 11, on your local PBS station, and in our live stream, which will begin at 8:30 p.m.

Despite the dark mood of the election, and Gilmore’s own dismal standing in the polls, the former governor appeared fairly upbeat.

As his aide called for the check, Gilmore took a parting shot at the Republican National Committee and the major television networks, which have kept Gilmore and other bottom-tier candidates off of the main debate stage.

“I think the press has transitioned from reporting the news to advocating for the candidates and shaping the race. And the RNC has facilitated that,” Gilmore said.

With that, it was time to go. Gilmore did not indicate whether he would continue on in the race if he failed to receive more than zero percent in the primary tonight.

“The first step is New Hampshire,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”

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