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How The 2020 Primary Threatens New Hampshire’s Role As First-In-Nation State

As a matter of history, no Democrat who has won New Hampshire has gone on to win the presidency since Jimmy Carter in 1976.


MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — The Old Man of the Mountain, a natural cliffside with a striking resemblance to an old man’s face, and also a major symbol of the state of New Hampshire, collapsed in 2003. That was it. No more Man of the Mountain. On Tuesday much hangs in the balance for another symbol of the Granite state, its first in the nation presidential primary.

New Hampshire can’t reasonably be blamed for debacle in Des Moine that was the Iowa Caucus, but it doesn’t matter. The disastrous failure in counting the votes has brought the entire notion of Iowa and New Hampshire going first into question. Both states have long been thought to lack enough diversity to play such an outsized role.

Most voters I spoke to here didn’t seem too worried about the possibility. Two gentleman at a local cigar bar laughed when I suggested the possibility, they’ve heard all this talk before. But could it be different this time? As far as that goes, much could depend upon the outcome. If as expected, we see a big night for Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic establishment could get very nervous very fast.

The argument in favor of first state status is that New Hampshire is small enough that lesser known candidates can compete without having Michael Bloomberg style money. There is also a cultural pride in the event that helps to draw interest and turnout. And of course there is tradition, but pulling on the threads of democratic traditions can unravel more than we intend to.

On the other hand, if one were to ask former Vice President Joe Biden if he is thrilled that Iowa and New Hampshire go first, one would likely get a resounding “no.” His candidacy has been badly damaged by this quirk in the American electoral system. Though he has led wire to wire in national polling, the loss in Iowa and what most expect to be another in New Hampshire could literally end his run, even though the states are tiny and not representative.

And as a matter of history, no Democrat who has won New Hampshire has gone on to win the presidency since Jimmy Carter in 1976. That isn’t a very good track record, and the party could well look at it and start to doubt the ability of this tiny wintry wonderland to choose and give a boost to candidates who can win the general election. If the New Hampshire winner once again falters this year, look for even more talk of if not pushing New Hampshire down the calendar, at least adding a few states to the first primary day.

Few Americans will ever experience presidential politics in the personal and visceral way the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire do. Almost everyone I spoke with has attended at least one campaign event, many have met candidates in person. By the time Super Tuesday comes and goes, presidential races become national affairs that operate at 10,000 feet. It is something that happens on televisions, not in the average American’s backyard. We may see the occasional canvasser at our front door, but our entire community does not become enveloped by the event.

Whatever the future holds for New Hampshire’s first primary status, voters here will turn out Tuesday taking their responsibility seriously. Having kicked the tires and asked the questions, they will send somebody off to Nevada and South Carolina with a head of steam and leave others questioning their future.

The Man of the Mountain may be no more, but at least for now the New Hampshire primary is. By 7:00 a.m. lines outside the arena in freezing Manchester were already stretching for President Trump’s rally, which only adds to the atmosphere of yard signs and constant TV ads. Candidates have one last day to sway a few votes and maybe move the needle. And then on Wednesday it will be over. The excitement having passed New Hampshire will fade from the spotlight until another four years pass. And they are very hopeful that come 2024, the nation’s first primary will still have a home in the Granite State.