By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – For more than a year, presidential candidates hosted town halls, visited homes, restaurants, radio and television stations and newspapers, attended party picnics and other events, and walked downtown streets with a dream of garnering enough votes to win, place or show.
After all the appearances, door knocking, phone calls, mailings and speeches, voters are about to decide who will continue to compete for their party’s nomination and who will go home or back to the U.S. Senate or U.S. House, or the mayor’s office or their businesses.
Let the voting begin, now it is real.
In a little more than a week, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will choose the early leaders in the nominating process for the election to decide the soul of this country.
The 2020 Presidential Primary is much different than what Rep. Stephen Bullock of Richmond envisioned in 1913 when he introduced a bill to create the first primary held three years later in 1916.
The 2020 primary is very different from the benchmark primaries of the last century when lesser-known candidates could catch fire and either continue on to the nomination or impact the final outcome.
For many years, anyone who wanted to be president had to win the New Hampshire Primary, but Bill Clinton upended that run when he finished second to Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas in 1992, declaring himself the comeback kid and eventually defeating incumbent President George HW Bush.
From its quiet beginning more than a century ago, the Presidential Primary has grown to be an essential stop on the road to the presidency.
The last two primaries have featured large fields of candidates, Republicans in 2016 and Democrats in 2020.
Many candidates that appeared to be strong contenders, in both primaries were gone before the voting began in Dixville Notch at the stroke of midnight.
This year, U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have dropped out, as did Beto O’Rourke, and governors or former governors Steve Bullock and John Hickenlooper; New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.
The attrition was almost as significant four years ago, when Govs. Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and Rick Perry, dropped out before the New Hampshire primary as did Sens. Lindsay Graham, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Gov. Chris Christie and former CEO Carly Fiorina ended their campaigns the day after New Hampshire and former Gov. Jeb Bush, the day after South Carolina results were known.
The attrition this year is apt to be significant after New Hampshire as well with a number of candidates on the edge.
Can both U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren continue past New Hampshire or is it the end of the road for one of the two progressives in the race, probably the latter.
If Midwesterners Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar do not do well in Iowa, do they have to finish either first, second or third in New Hampshire to continue?
And what if former Vice President Joe Biden finishes second or lower in New Hampshire and Iowa, is his campaign on life support?
Usually at this time with days to go before the election, the number of undecided voters begins to shrink dramatically, but there appears to be a large undecided segment likely to make their choice in the voting booth.
It is about as volatile as any Presidential Primary in many years.
Over the years New Hampshire has been kind to neighborly candidates particularly when they are frontrunners.
In 2004, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. John Kerry was not doing well while Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was surging heading into Iowa and New Hampshire. One nationally televised scream later and Kerry was leaving New Hampshire with a commanding lead and never looked back.
In 1988, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis finished first followed by Missouri’s Dick Gephardt, who won the Iowa caucus, and U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.
Dukakis went on to win the nomination but lost to Bush in the general election.
Tsongas won the primary in 1992, while Clinton finished second and Nebraska U.S. Sen. Bob Kerry finished third.
And in 2016, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won a commanding victory over frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who won the nomination but lost to President Donald Trump, although she had more than 3 million more than he did in the general election.
The New Hampshire primary has a reputation of upsets, although many of the upsets were actual victories for the frontrunner.
For example, many people believe Eugene McCarthy beat President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 primary, but he did not, and George McGovern finished second to neighbor and frontrunner Maine U.S. Sen. Ed Muskie.
McGovern won the Democratic nomination, but lost to Nixon, while vice president Hubert Humphrey was the Democrat’s nominee in 1968 when Johnson decided not to seek re-election two weeks after the New Hampshire primary.
Another upset was Pat Buchanan’s showing against George HW Bush in the 1992 Republican primary. Bush was very popular in the run up to the primary season due to the Gulf War, but by the time people began voting, the country and New England were in a severe recession.
Buchanan practically lived in New Hampshire, he was here so often, and he parlayed his constant presence into 37 percent of the vote. While his campaign only lasted a little while after New Hampshire, he exposed Bush’s weaknesses and Clinton won the general election.
Buchanan won the 1996 Republican primary by 1 percentage point over Kansas U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, although Dole righted his campaign and won his party’s nomination.
Dole’s campaign had all the party bosses and elected officials behind it, and probably would have won easily if the election had been held a year earlier, but it was not.
The best strategies often go awry before the voting begins, as winning any political contest takes message, money, a good ground game, a lot of hard work, and luck.
The Party Begins
After Monday’s Iowa caucus, the streets of the state will be filled with presidential candidates making their pitches to the state’s voters.
Take a ride down Elm Street in Manchester this week and see the campaigns lining the sidewalks, the signs everywhere and opposing campaigns trying to drown out the other for the attention of those brave enough to walk among them.
The Center of New Hampshire will be the center of New Hampshire having replaced the old Wayfarer Hotel in Bedford as the go to place for political operatives and the media.
The last days before the New Hampshire Presidential Primary would have you believe the circus is in town.
The atmosphere belies the seriousness of what is at stake for the candidates, the campaigns staffs, and the people of New Hampshire and the United States.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the flights between Manchester and Charleston, South Carolina will be booked full, but there will be empty seats, those reserved for the candidates and their staffs who will not be going on to the South Carolina Presidential Primary.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.