No one cared much about Unity — the town or the ideal — back when more than a dozen candidates were competing in the New Hampshire primary.
"We've had state senators and congressmen and people like that who've walked in our Old Home Day parade when they were campaigning, but I don't remember having any presidential candidates here in my time," said Roberta Callum, who has lived in the tiny western New Hampshire town for all but 12 of her 84 years.
That will change on Friday, when former rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign together for the first time since he won enough delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. As they try to ease tensions and bring their party together, they are seizing upon both the town's symbolism and symmetry — each received 107 Democratic votes in Unity on Jan. 8, plus one write-in vote apiece from Republicans.
Friday's rally will be held outside the Unity Elementary School, where Principal Chip Baldwin first thought the Obama staffer who showed up last week was just another photocopier salesmen.
"My initial reaction was one of awe, and also, 'C'mon, you're pulling my leg,'" Baldwin said Tuesday as several campaign workers took measurements of the school's field. He pointed out the classroom the school's 120 pupils in kindergarten through 8th grade use as their "gym" and said he hopes the weather cooperates Friday, given that there are no indoor options.
There isn't much in the rest of the town either, aside from one general store, the county jail and the county nursing home. The library, police and town offices are housed in a restored tavern, where a jar of homemade cookies sits in the selectmen's meeting room.
The town was founded in 1764 and named Unity because in granting the land, King George III unified a group of petitioners who had lost their land elsewhere in the colony. The 2,500 people expected to attend the rally far exceed the town's 1,700 population. Locals say the last time there was a crowd that big was for a 1970s performance by folk singer Arlo Guthrie.
"It's going to be quite a spectacle. It's a historic moment for the town," said Will Boutin, 58, owner of a general store. Both he and his wife Kathy voted for Obama, as did their daughter, Christine.
Though the two candidates tied in Unity, Clinton won the state, resuscitating her candidacy and setting up the long campaign with Obama.
Sen. John McCain won the state's Republican primary and has been back in New Hampshire several times since, recognizing that it will be a critical battleground in November. President Bush won the state in the 2000 general election, but Democrat John Kerry narrowly captured it in 2004, and Democrats took control of the state Legislature and both congressional seats in 2006.
In Unity, about 45 percent of registered voters are independent or undeclared, and Democrats hold a slight edge among those who've declared a party preference.
Ken Hall, who was mowing the grass at the school Tuesday wearing a T-shirt featuring the American flag, said he voted for McCain in the primary but hasn't made up his mind yet about the general election.
"I'm a Republican but it doesn't mean I can't change my mind in the voting booth," he said.
But Callum, a lifelong Republican, said she doesn't expect to be won over by Obama and probably would have skipped the rally had her son not persuaded her to attend.
"You listen to this stuff for months ... it just goes on and on," she said. "But my son says this is an event, you've got to go, whether you're a Democrat or Republican."