Scanlan Lays Out Primary Predictions; GOP’s Tom Rath Says It’s Closer Than You Think

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U.S. Congressman Dean Phillips is flanked by reporters last October as he files to run as a Democrat in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.


CONCORD – As the state inches closer to the first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday, Secretary of State David Scanlan issued his predictions for voter turnout while longtime GOP observer Tom Rath said “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Rath says the race may well be much closer than polls would suggest between frontrunner and former President Trump and Nikki Haley who finished third in Iowa behind Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Rath said New Hampshire’s unique primary makeup which allows the state’s largest voting block – 344,335 registered undeclared voters or Independents – to take either Democratic or Republican ballot adds a wild card that most states don’t have and makes it hard to predict who is coming out and for what reason next Tuesday.

Secretary of State Scanlan predicted many of the 261,254 registered Democrats will sit this one out.

He estimated 88,000 Democrats taking to the polls, Tuesday, Jan. 23. That is largely because the incumbent and sitting president, Joe Biden, decided not to be on the ballot here, due to the Democratic National Committee’s calendar to make South Carolina the first in the nation’s Democratic primary.
Democrats have been pushing a write-in campaign for Biden. And challenging Biden, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson are still actively campaigning.

A citizens group is also urging critics of the Biden Administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza to write in “ceasefire” as a write-in candidate.

New Hampshire’s primary by state law must go first. Scanlan predicted 322,000 voters will take Republican ballots.

The state has 267,768 registered Republicans but 344,335 Undeclared/Independent voters as of Friday and same day-voter registration are factored into Scanlan’s prognosis.

As of Friday, the number of voters who have requested absentee ballots totaled 26,162, with 16,767 voting as Republicans.

At a campaign event in Portsmouth on Wednesday, Trump falsely claimed that New Hampshire law “allows Democrats to vote in the Republican primary.” 

He also said his former U.N. Ambassador and the former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu, “is counting on Democrats and liberals to infiltrate your Republican primary.”

Scanlan made it clear that registered Democrats cannot vote in the Republican primary.

If you are registered as an Independent/Undeclared voter you can choose either primary ballot on Tuesday. 

And if you are not registered, you can vote on election day.

Rachel Deane, Durham’s town clerk and tax collector, said it is hard to know how many same-day voters and undeclared voters will show up on Tuesday with 10,585 registered voters, of which 1,374 are Republicans and 4,228 are undeclared, there.

Durham is home to the state’s largest university, the University of New Hampshire, and often sees many same day voter registrations. 

There is a separate line for those who show up to register and vote and they can show up without a government issued identification, a water bill or some form of domicile verification and take an affidavit ballot this year, with identification later verified for the vote to count.

She said the fact that UNH’s first day of classes for the new semester might impact voting Tuesday but she too is unsure of the turnout.

At least it appears that the weather, considered a potential factor in turnout at last week’s Iowa caucuses, should not be a factor.

Last week in Iowa’s caucuses, Trump beat Haley by 39 points among Republican voters. DeSantis, who came in second, is polling far behind Haley in New Hampshire, now.

If the vote were Friday, Rath said he thinks Trump would eke out a win here for Republicans but anything can happen in the last few days.

Rath said he thinks those for and against Trump are coming out Tuesday in force but it is hard to know just how it will break.

A factor to be considered is the popularity of Gov. Chris Sununu, who is campaigning like no governor he ever recollects on behalf of one candidate, Rath said.

While Rath has advised Republican candidates in New Hampshire in the past, he is not affiliated with any candidate this year.

Rath began his long experience with the first-in-the-nation primary when, as a Dartmouth College freshman from Old Saybrook, Conn., in 1964 he worked for Dartmouth ’30 alum Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York who would become a vice president, and his race for the nomination against Barry Goldwater.

Both lost at the last minute to Henry Cabot Lodge for the Republican nod.

Rath, the Dartmouth ’67 grad, said he learned the lesson then that anything can happen in the last hours of a campaign in New Hampshire. 

And what makes New Hampshire different is that a year and a half before the first ballots are cast here, people often will go to a school gym to listen to a potential candidate speak. 

Also what people don’t understand in the rest of the country, in addition to how seriously people take their vote here, is that it is highly democratic. 

“What people don’t understand is how open our process is,” said Rath, particularly as it relates to independents. 

“It really creates a very different electorate.”

Rath is founder of the law firm of Rath, Young and Pignatelli. President George H. W. Bush appointed him to be a director of the Legal Services Corporation. 

He chaired the senatorial campaigns of Warren Rudman and Judd Gregg and assisted in the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter by the United States Senate. 

Souter, who was also New Hampshire attorney general, first recruited and hired Rath to work at the Department of Justice.

Rath served as a senior advisor to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Howard Baker, Mitt Romney, Robert Dole, and Lamar Alexander and has served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. 

Rath is the past National Committeeman from New Hampshire to the Republican Party.

He said this race is fascinating and unpredictable.

“I think it is so much closer than people think,” he said of the race between Haley and Trump. “I’ll be surprised if he broke 50 percent of the Republican votes cast.”

A huge factor for Haley, Rath said, is the work Republican Gov. Sununu is actively doing to see her across the finish line here.

Rath said he does not recall a governor ever being so actively involved in a primary.

This race, unlike others “is a little harder to predict,” in part because of the Independents.

Registered voters who wanted to switch parties had until Oct. 7, 2023 to do so and 4,920 switched from Democrat to either Independent/Undeclared or to Republican affiliation with the clear majority, 3,542 choosing to be unaffiliated, according to data from the Secretary of State.

Information about voting locations and polling hours is here

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