CONCORD, N.H. — Tears, tomatoes and teasing - the staff at Mary Ann's Diner has seen it all from the presidential candidates who have turned the restaurant into a must-not-miss stop during the primary campaign.
Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry's eyes brimmed with tears as he listened to a woman describe losing her job in 2003. Four years later, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani hustled through, shook a few hands then sat down to an egg white omelet, tomatoes on the side.
Teasing was on the menu when Mitt Romney stopped by in June. The former Massachusetts governor posed for a picture in front of the jukebox, told several waitresses to squeeze in closer and then pretended that one of them had grabbed his behind.
"Oh my goodness!" he exclaimed.
Joking aside, Mr. Romney and the others are plenty serious about seeing and being seen at popular campaign stops in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Some venues provide wholesome, All-American backdrops for photo-ops; think 1950s-style diners. Others, such as a gun shop in New Hampshire, quickly telegraph a candidate's position on issues important to their party's base.
At least four of the Republican presidential hopefuls have stopped by Mary Ann's in Derry during the current primary campaign, said owner William Andreoli. "There's always a couple of people who don't like the camera business, but all and all, people respond very well to it," he said of his regulars
In South Carolina, the Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg is a bell-ringer for every candidate.
Rep. Michele Bachmann played up the stop better than most in August, lingering on a stage set up in the parking lot and dancing with an older fellow to Elvis blaring from loudspeakers. Mrs. Bachmann then headed inside the restaurant and took the unusual role of calling out a fake order with the guidance of a longtime counter worker.
Kenny Church, who has co-owned the Beacon for 13 years, said the restaurant's size - with seating for 400 - makes it an attractive spot, along with its diverse clientele.
"It's a cross section of people. You've got businessmen, old, young, African-American, white - it's mixed. It's sort of a melting pot here, so it works real well."
Candidates also work the crowds tailgating before the home football games of South Carolina's two biggest college rivals.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. did a rare two-fer this year, hitting the crowd at a Clemson University football game and then driving for more than two hours to watch the University of South Carolina play in Columbia.
The Labor Day parade in Chapin, S.C., has been something of a good luck charm for Republican candidates for years, though only former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum showed up this year, when the forecast called for rain.
A glance at candidate schedules shows Mr. Santorum, more than most, has visited the traditional spots in New Hampshire, with Mr. Huntsman making it to a fair number.
In Iowa, popular spots include the Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars, Pizza Ranch restaurants and the Iowa State Fair, though some candidates have enjoyed the latter more than others.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the son of a tenant farmer, ate what he called "corny dogs," put his feet up on bales of hay and talked about his appreciation for the agricultural way of life.