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The Granite State’s last hurrah

This could be the last election in which the New Hampshire primary, and its quaintly irrelevant retail politics, really matters
By ADAM REILLY  |  January 2, 2008


Whatever happens in the future, New Hampshire’s place in American political history is secure. Here are some highlights from past Granite State primaries:

1952 Dwight Eisenhower uses his win in New Hampshire (then with a population of 536,000) to unseat Robert Taft as the preferred candidate of the GOP establishment.
1968 President Lyndon Johnson’s slim victory over Eugene McCarthy prompts the former’s withdrawal from the race, and Bobby Kennedy’s ill-fated entrance.
1972 Democratic front-runner Edmund Muskie appears to cry in speech outside the offices of the Manchester Union-Leader, which had attacked his wife in print — his campaign never recovers.
1976 Jimmy Carter’s Granite State victory transforms him from footnote to favorite.
1984 Gary Hart becomes the front-runner after beating Walter Mondale and rest of field. Mondale later rallies to nip Hart at the convention wire and earn the Democratic nomination (Donna Rice would take care of ’88).
1988 After finishing third in Iowa, George H.W. Bush rebounds with vital New Hampshire win.
1992 Bill Clinton packages his second-place finish as a victory with the “Comeback Kid” moniker, proceeds to the presidency.
2000 John McCain stuns George W. Bush, but can’t carry his momentum past South Carolina.
2004 After topping ex-favorite Howard Dean in Iowa, John Kerry rides his New Hampshire win to the nomination.

MANCHESTER, NH — In a few days, New Hampshire voters will take their quadrennial place at the center of American politics — and this time, the stakes will be even higher than usual. With no presumptive nominee from either party, the Granite State will help decide the fates of the first viable female and African-American candidates for president, as well as the outcome of a pitched battle for the soul of the GOP.

What probably won’t be mentioned, amid the flurry of pre- and post-election coverage, is that 2008 could be the last time New Hampshire enjoys this political privilege. Since griping about the New Hampshire primary is almost as much of a ritual as the New Hampshire primary itself, that may sound far-fetched. But this time around, the state’s primary primacy is truly endangered, though, for the nation’s political process, that may be a good thing.

Vote first or die
On a snowy night this past month, New Hampshire governor John Lynch took the stage inside Verizon Wireless Arena and waxed fulsome over TV deity Oprah Winfrey and Democratic senator Barack Obama, the stars of the evening’s political pepfest. His biggest applause line, though, came when he changed the subject and started talking up the New Hampshire primary. In the Granite State, Lynch proudly proclaimed, you have to meet the citizens face-to-face — a process that will make you a better candidate and (if you’re lucky) a better president.

That’s precisely the line of argument that helped save the New Hampshire primary’s early date after the last presidential election. Back in 2004 — after John Kerry guided the Democrats to their seventh defeat in 10 election cycles — the Democratic National Committee convened a special commission to explore revamping the nominating schedule. There was talk of creating a Western primary, or a rotating system of regional primaries, or of moving big states such as Florida or California or Michigan toward the front of the nominating process — changes aimed at targeting constituencies neglected by the current system (there aren’t many blacks in either New Hampshire or Iowa, nor Latinos, nor urbanites) and maybe even winning an election for once. Obviously, the DNC’s deliberations were party-specific. But it seemed likely that a major retooling would prompt the Republicans to make big changes of their own.

In the end, though, there wasn’t much of a shake-up at all. After Iowa and New Hampshire masterfully lobbied the party’s power brokers, and the DNC commission issued its modest recommendations, and would-be rivals such as Nevada and South Carolina were bought off with improved positions (caucuses on January 19 and primary on January 26, respectively) — the new nominating schedule for 2008 wasn’t all that different from the old one. Once again, Iowa went first, holding its caucuses on January 3. Once again, New Hampshire will go second, holding its primary this Tuesday, on January 8. And once again, the nomination will almost certainly be decided after the one-day bevy of elections known as Super Tuesday. This year, though, Super Tuesday will take place on February 5, nearly a month earlier than it did in 2004. And it’ll feature roughly twice as many states as it did last time around.

How, exactly, did two small states manage to fend off 48 potential rivals? Chalk it up to inertia, or fear of unintended consequences, or a genuine conviction that New Hampshire and Iowa work, or the fact that any new state(s) poised to bump off Iowa and New Hampshire would similarly incur the envy of their erstwhile allies. But also credit New Hampshire and Iowa for an almost pathological determination to take any steps necessary to maintain their privileged role. “This is their life,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “They’ll hold their contests right after July 4 the year before the election if they have to — they don’t care, as long as they’re first.”

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The Granite State’s last hurrah
Don't be so quick to bash NH's status as the first primary state. While politicians you quoted have reason to want NH to be first, you need to better represent the definition of what it means to the voters in NH to "be serious" about this position. Yes we take it seriously-and that includes not only spending a lot of time understanding the positions each candidate takes on issues, but we also willingly participate in poll after poll, watching ad after ad, comparing meeting outcomes and communication strategies. We talk about candidates with each other and frankly put in a lot of effort and many, many hours to gain a sense of confidence in who we will vote for. I really wonder if others would truly take their role as seriously and put in the time it takes to do that. Here is an idea for a poll: Ask voters in other states how much time they would allocate to learning about all the candidates if they were awarded first in the nation primary status. Bet it wouldn't compare to what a typical NH voter does! By the way, put me down for about 80 hours so far...
By Susan R on 01/02/2008 at 1:07:21
The Granite State’s last hurrah
Although its easier to just keep the status quo, it would benefit America's political process to make some changes - by limiting campaign season dramatically. Campaign Fatigue is a real problem for our political process. Many Americans simlply tune out after so many months of hearing the same crap over and over again in the media. Honestly, I don't really care what states go first - but I think there is some truth to the fact that NH and Iowa are not only manageable in size, but force candidates to speak with voters mono e mono. There are, however, other states that have a similar landscape that would probably work equally as well. Perhaps changes should be made in the process to accommodate this fact. I have no doubt the whoever the leading states are its citizens will be proud to partake in the political process - regardless of race, class, socioeconomic background, etc. More importantly, though, we need to limit the amount of time voters are forced to hear the same rhetoric over and over and over again. The media could play a huge role in limiting campaign season. Of course I would prefer to see this change occur without new laws or regulations but it's unlikely.
By CharlesRoland on 01/03/2008 at 7:53:09
The Granite State’s last hurrah
Recently, former Massachusetts Governor, and 1988 Democrat Presidential nominee, Michael Stanley Dukakis joined a gathering of students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the first in a series of discussions on the 2008 New Hampshire primary. “The History and Magic of New Hampshire”, found citizen, now Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University sometime, and sometime Visiting Professor of Public Policy at UCLA, Dukakis, across from Sue Casey, an advisor to four presidential candidates and author of “Hart and Soul: Gary Hart’s New Hampshire Odyssey and Beyond”. In their attempt to peel back the onion and provide an insiders look at the process, a sensitivity rarely captured in the current American political genre, emerged. For those of us who’ve rolled through the frozen front wars of New Hampshire, you can’t get past the memory of a Casey, taunt and raging, head in hand and quizzical as to just why you didn’t fill the phone bank or cover a precinct. At the same time, it’s such true believers who spring, out of pocket, for beer, for pizza, and for fries and shell out a couch or floor or phone to call home for a novice campaigner far, far from the hinterland and deep in “the cause”. Regardless as to where one comes down regarding Mr. Dukakis, there’s the ultimate conclusion that he’s a decent and honorable man. Yet that hardly reduces the cackling which arises around “the tank”, “Willie Horton”, and his hijacked message, twisted by a pastiche of accusations, boxed and bowed, and hurled at his efforts, ultimately jack-hammering his campaign into comic fodder for late night television ghouls. History will ultimately elevate, or chastise both for their engagements and entanglements. Gov. Dukakis testified that candidates, for the most part, are “too deeply involved in being good candidates to be deeply involved in all aspects”, of the day to day happenings of their campaigns. Yep, history does hold for such an accounting, and often those numbers just suck….even for the most promising of them. Prior to 1952, New Hampshire garnered little notice aside from baggy woolens and this or that ski slope or covered bridge. As Ms. Casey bled in her presentation, “Eisenhower was still in Europe”, above the political fray. At best, its primaries were “beauty contests”. As latter day candidates emerged, amongst them ‘Smilin Jack’ Kennedy (D-MA) from neighboring Massachusetts, in 1960, the ‘granite state’ gained more importance. By 1972, Ms. Casey pointed out, New Hampshire exploded, with the help of the media, as “magical”. It’s an “open primary”, and ergo party affiliation need not be declared. Although cloaked in a façade of opportunity for “Independents”, or un-enrolled voters, or just those who’ve runaway as far as they can from things they’ve grown to complain about, New Hampshire, in spite of it’s greasy dinners and it’s “Elks Lodge”, is hardly a demographic replicate of the nation as a whole. At the forum, Mr. Dukakis referred to his campaign experience in New Hampshire as being similar to those early on in Brookline, MA, the door to door, getting to know you style. Retail politics? Somewhat. In his presentation, the governor never drifted far from his core values of family, of stuff being local…all stuff. The parasites of his presidential campaign, and others for that matter, now live large on consultant fees, running other trains from their tracks. Yet what apparently set that crew on their heels, at that time, was not only an internal power struggle, but an altering of the game, a “Super-Tuesday” awaited them, changing the game, both scaring and denting the candidates plan over the long haul. Adrift and under siege, his initiative crashed like the ships of Ulysses and dragged on the breakers of “the business”. There’s an ugly edge to the rodeo there at politics time. With the invasion of all that youth in such times, with all the testosterone, no one falls in love in New Hampshire. In lust, maybe, but not love. There is shouting. There is misery. There is laughter and moments of self-indulgent exhilaration. There’s drama. Nothing is toned down and nothing “just happens”. There are players. There are intentions. There is disaster and cataclysmic consequences where there is neglect. And there other struggles await candidates should they emerge victorious and perhaps with a “bump” and increase in finances. ‘Potomac fever’ has long been a communicable disease among Massachusetts’ politicos, as unique as Seurat’s impressionism when compared to other states. The Duke did, however, concede that the importance of the New Hampshire primary needs a closer and more realistic review, and that the powers that be, those who carve out and regulate the matters, may better serve the republic with six regional primaries over a three month period. Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) recently addressed the untidy situation which campaign fatigue and state leapfrogging have brought on. “There’s just no possible justification for one or two states that are not particularly representative to have a dominant role in this process. It’s not fair to other states.” Republicans continue to campaign in Michigan, for example, while Democrat candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden have withdrawn from the January 15 presidential primary. Oddly enough, Michigan holds far more of a demographic resemblance to the broader nation than the other two jump start states. “It’s yet another reason”, Mr. Levin was quoted, “why we need to get rid of Iowa and New Hampshire going first.” Campaigns and candidates adjust and target their visits, staff placements and media buys to front loaded states. “It’s too bad,” Michigan Democrat Party Chair Mark Brewer said , “that Democrats think this election is going to be run in Iowa and New Hampshire and are ignoring the rest of the country.” Perhaps now we should begin to view the New Hampshire primary for what it is, an overweight dowager in fishnets and a mini-skirt, wallowing in unmerited revelry. It is a place far from being demographically representative of the rest of the nation, with its media set-ups of brightly colored vans and satellite discs, its brisk hotel and bar business, but only in that “first in the nation” season. Whether the Duke is a technocrat or a visionary, he may very well be on the money regarding that regional thing.
By jeffery mcnary on 01/03/2008 at 9:04:03
The Granite State’s last hurrah
First in the nation doesn't need to be confined to just one state. Yes, the candidates need some focus, but running for Pres. of the US is obviously bigger than just one state. While I think NH should be a first in the nation primary, why not invite other states to participate? Like Super Tuesday, have 3-4 states become the bellweathers and use the same primary date. Choose a few that have demonstrated a serious committment to voting and use demographic data to support a more balanced representation of the US population. NH takes their role to heart and if others would too-and not just for the sake of it like Florida- but to support the greater good of the nation, then have at it!
By Susan R on 01/03/2008 at 1:18:42

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