With New Hampshire filing opening Wednesday, Bill Gardner is ready

Story highlights

  • New Hampshire Secretary of Sate Bill Gardner welcomes anyone with a signed form and $1,000 to be on the state ballot
  • "We do it with a purpose, because we feel that if this is where its going to start, give everybody a chance. If someone wants to be able to run give them a chance and let them get on the ballot, let the voters decide," Gardner told CNN

Manchester, NH (CNN)New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has seen everyone from Barack Obama to a man dressed like a lobster march into his office. And $1,000 plus forms brings the same treatment: a chance to get their name on the presidential primary ballot.

The state's filing period kicks off Wednesday and Gardner is expecting at least seven major candidates in just three days to stop into his office -- including Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders.
    The trip to the State House in Concord officially puts the candidate on the primary ballot, but it's also a symbolic acknowledgment of New Hampshire's unique place in the election and the man who keeps it that way.
    In office since 1976, Gardner is well loved by Granite State voters. And a large part of that is due to his soft-spoken, but fierce, defense of New Hampshire's long-standing first-in-the-nation primary status.
    The date of the 2016 primary has yet to be announced and Gardner told CNN he will be waiting until he is absolutely certain no states will challenge the rule that any "similar election" must happen seven days after New Hampshire's.
    Gardner has often had to move up the date of the primary to ward off challenges from other states seeking to schedule their primaries earlier to gain prominence and influence in the election process.
    History shows that the New Hampshire primary, where voters often make their decisions at the last second, has the ability to disrupt conventional wisdom and make winners of underdogs.
    "We do it with a purpose, because we feel that if this is where its going to start, give everybody a chance. If someone wants to be able to run give them a chance and let them get on the ballot, let the voters decide," Gardner told CNN. "It absolutely does not matter who you are or how much you have."
    He has stories of future presidents Barack Obama, bowing to him in deference, and George H. W. Bush, shaking the hand of every employee in the office. But Gardner has just as many stories about a "lobster-man," a Mark Twain lookalike, and even a Gorilla, who all wanted a shot at the presidency.
    Framed photos of elections past line the walls of Gardner's office and provide evidence that he has in fact met every kind of candidate.
    In the pictures one sees that in 1984 there was the heavily bearded David Kelley, who called himself the "last Confederate soldier";1968 saw Colossus G. Benson, a 475-pound gorilla who was not actually allowed in the State House due to his size; and in 2000 a man dressed in a skimpy red leotard, with lobster claw hands and a shiny red cape ("Lobsterman"), showed up.
    Potential candidates have appeared with no money for the $1,000 fee but tried to bargain with snake skin, fake credit cards and even hula dancers, says Gardner. In 1984 Democratic candidate Sen. Gary Hart paid with 1,000 single dollar bills that Gardner says they stacked in hundreds and counted carefully.
    Although Gardner cannot help but laugh when he recalls the gorilla's campaign manager (a chimpanzee dressed in a white tuxedo) swinging from his office's light fixture, his adherence to the spirit of the New Hampshire primary has made him a fixture on the presidential campaign trail.
    "He's the best in the nation," New Hampshire State Rep. Dennis Fields told CNN. "He's just phenomenal with New Hampshire history and he's always held our first in the nation primary, and we have a lot confidence that it's going to keep going as long as he's Secretary of State."
    Still, not everyone makes it on the ballot. Although anyone can file for the primary, any person can also put in a complaint alleging that a candidate doesn't fit the requirements. That, say, they don't meet the requirements set out in the U.S. Constitution, or the information on their form is proven false. The New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission then decides if the name will remain on the ballot.
    The party affiliation requirement to be either in the Democratic or Republican party has raised questions about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' eligibility - he has famously run as an Independent for years.
    However his campaign tells CNN that they are not concerned and have the support of the Democratic party.
    With around 17 major candidates expected to join the 2016 contest before the filing period ends on November 20 the Secretary of State's office will have a busy schedule. Many of the major candidates will likely bring an entourage of supporters with them, disrupting the daily workflow in the Capitol building as supporters, and possibly protestors, swarm the offices ahead of the essential photo-op with Gardner.
    On Wednesday Martin O'Malley, who is trailing his Democratic competitors in the latest polls, will be filing less than two hours ahead of Donald Trump, who until very recently has been leading almost every Republican poll since he declared his candidacy.
    On Thursday the office expects Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Sanders to stop by. And on Friday Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are expected to file.
    Hillary Clinton's campaign recently announced she will be filing on November 9. It will be Clinton's fourth visit to Gardner's office during a filing period, she filed for her husband Bill Clinton when he was a Governor in 1992 and when he was President in 1996 and in her 2008 White House bid.
    Dr. Ben Carson is taking a bit of a risk by planning to put in paperwork on the last day of the filing period, November 20. If a candidate is filing on the final day he or she cannot rely on a mailed in application or a representative, but must do so in person.
    Gardner says that when former Rep. Dennis Kucinich ran for president he didn't learn of that rule until the last day of filing, while on the phone with a staffer who was standing in Gardner's office. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, was standing on the floor of the House in Washington, says Gardner, but he was on a flight to New Hampshire within an hour.