New Hampshire primary

New Hampshire primary
Saint Anselm College Quad with the "Fox-Box", where the Fox News network reported live during the 2004 and 2008 New Hampshire primary.

The New Hampshire primary is the first in a series of nationwide political party primary elections held in the United States every four years (although the Iowa caucus is held earlier), as part of the process of choosing the Democratic and Republican nominees for the presidential elections to be held the subsequent November.

Although only a few delegates are chosen in the New Hampshire primary, its real importance comes from the massive media coverage it receives (along with Iowa, which holds the first caucuses); in recent years the two states received about as much media attention as all other state primaries combined[citation needed]. An example of this massive media coverage has been seen on the campus of Saint Anselm College, as the campus has held multiple national debates and have attracted media outlets like Fox News, CNN, NBC, and ABC. The publicity and momentum can be enormous from a decisive win by a frontrunner, or better-than-expected result in the New Hampshire primary. The upset or weak showing by a front-runner changes the calculus of national politics in a matter of hours, as happened in 1952 (D), 1968 (D), 1980 (R), and 2008 (D).

Since 1952, the primary has been a major testing ground for candidates for both the Republican and Democratic nominations. Candidates who do poorly frequently drop out, while lesser-known, underfunded candidates who do well in New Hampshire suddenly become serious contenders, garnering large amounts of media attention and campaign funding.

It is not a closed primary, in which votes can be cast in a party primary only by people registered with that party. Undeclared voters — those not registered with any party — can vote in either party primary. However, it does not meet a common definition of an open primary, because people registered as Republican or Democrat on voting day cannot cast ballots in the primary of the other party.[1]



The scheduled date of the New Hampshire primary always officially starts out as the second Tuesday in March, which is the date when town meetings and non-partisan municipal elections are traditionally held. New Hampshire law stipulates (in section RSA 653:9 of the statute book) that the Secretary of State can change the date to ensure that the New Hampshire primary will take place at least seven days before any "similar election" in any other state. The Iowa caucuses are not considered to be a similar election. In recent election cycles, the New Hampshire primary has taken place the week after the Iowa caucus.

New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary status was threatened in 2007, when both the Republican and Democratic National Committees moved to give more populous states a bigger influence in the presidential race.[2]

Several states also sought to move up the dates of their 2008 primaries in order to have more influence and dilute the power of the New Hampshire primary.[3] Originally held in March, the date of the New Hampshire primary has been moved up repeatedly to maintain its status as first. The 2008 primary was held on January 8.


There is consensus among scholars and pundits that the New Hampshire primary, because of the timing and the vast media attention, can have a great impact and may even make or break or revive a candidate.[4] Controlling for other factors statistically, a win in New Hampshire increases a candidate's share of the final primary count in all states by 27 percentage points.[5]

Since 1977, New Hampshire has fought hard to keep its timing as the first primary (while Iowa has the first caucus a few days sooner.) State law requires that its primary must be the first in the nation (it had been the first by tradition since 1920).[6] As a result, the state has moved its primary earlier in the year to remain the first. The primary was held on the following dates: 1952-1968, second Tuesday in March; 1972, first Tuesday in March; 1976-1984, fourth Tuesday in February; 1988-1996, third Tuesday in February; 2000, first Tuesday in February (February 1); 2004, fourth Tuesday in January (January 27). The shifts have been to compete with changing primary dates in other states. The primary date for 2008 continued the trend; it was held January 8, the second Tuesday in January.

Before the Iowa caucus first received national attention in the 1970s (Republicans began caucusing in Iowa in 1976), the New Hampshire primary was the first binding indication of which presidential candidate would receive the party nomination. In defense of their primary, voters of New Hampshire have tended to downplay the importance of the Iowa caucus. "The people of Iowa pick corn, the people of New Hampshire pick presidents," said then-Governor John H. Sununu in 1988.[7]

Since then, the primary has been considered an early measurement of the national attitude toward the candidates for nomination. Unlike a caucus, the primary measures the number of votes each candidate received directly, rather than through precinct delegates. The popular vote gives lesser-known candidates a chance to demonstrate their appeal to the electorate at large.

Unlike most other states, New Hampshire permits voters that have not declared their party affiliation to vote in a party's primary. A voter does have to officially join one party or the other before voting; however the voter can change his or her affiliation back to "Undeclared" immediately after voting, and hence he or she only has to belong to a party for the few minutes it takes to fill out and cast a ballot. Voters who are already a member of one party or the other cannot change their affiliation at the polling place: that can only be done before the checklist is closed several weeks prior to the election. New voters can, however, register at the polling place.[1] All voting is done with paper ballots; however, most of the paper ballots are counted by machine.

New Hampshire's status as the first in the nation is somewhat controversial among Democrats because the ethnic makeup of the state is not diverse and not representative of the country's voters.[8] This is shown in the 2000 Census data, with the ratio of minority residents being six times smaller than the national average (New Hampshire is 96% non-Hispanic white, versus 75% nationally). Politically however, the state does offer a wide sampling of different types of voters. Although it is a New England state, it is not as liberal as some of its neighbors. For example, according to one exit poll, of those who participated in the 2004 Democratic Primary, 4-in-10 voters were independents, and just over 50% said they considered themselves "liberal." Additionally, as of 2002, 25.6% of New Hampshire residents are registered Democrats and 36.7% are Republicans, with 37.7% of New Hampshire voters registered as "undeclared" independents. Also, New Hampshire was the only state in the Northeast to vote for George W. Bush in 2000. This plurality of independents is a major reason why New Hampshire is considered a swing state in general U.S. presidential elections.

Recently, media expectations for the New Hampshire primary have come to be almost as important as the results themselves; meeting or beating expectations can provide a candidate with national attention, often leading to an infusion of donations to a campaign that has spent most of its reserves. For example, in 1992, Bill Clinton, although he did not win, did surprisingly well, with his team dubbing him the "Comeback Kid"; the extra media attention helped his campaign's visibility in later primaries.[9]

New Hampshire's political importance as the first in the nation primary state is highlighted in the documentary film Winning New Hampshire. The film focuses on John Kerry's comeback in 2004 and the decisive effect of the New Hampshire Primary on the Presidential selection process.

The last three presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) finished second in the New Hampshire Primary before later being elected to the presidency, while the previous 4 before that (excluding Ford, who was not elected) won the New Hampshire Primary.


New Hampshire has held a presidential primary since 1916, but it did not begin to assume its current importance until 1952 after NH simplified its ballot access laws in 1949 seeking to boost voter turnout, when Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated his broad voter appeal by defeating Robert A. Taft, "Mr. Republican," who had been favored for the nomination, and Estes Kefauver defeated incumbent President Harry S. Truman, leading Truman to abandon his campaign for a second term of his own.

The other President to be forced from running for re-election by New Hampshire voters was Lyndon Johnson, who, as a write-in candidate, managed only a 49-42 percent victory over Eugene McCarthy in 1968 (and won fewer delegates than McCarthy), and consequently withdrew from the race.[10]

The winner in New Hampshire has not always gone on to win their party's nomination, as demonstrated by Republicans Harold Stassen in 1948, Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and John McCain in 2000 and Democrats Estes Kefauver in 1952 and 1956, Paul Tsongas in 1992, and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Before 1992, the person elected president had always carried the primary, but Bill Clinton broke the pattern in 1992, as did George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008. In 1992, Clinton lost to Paul Tsongas in New Hampshire; in 2000, George W. Bush lost to John McCain in New Hampshire; and in 2008 Barack Obama lost to Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary.


The 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary was one of the crucial events in the politics of that landmark year in United States history. Senator Eugene McCarthy began his campaign with a poem that he wrote in imitation of the poet Robert Lowell, "Are you running with me Jesus":

I'm not matching my stride
With Billy Graham's by the Clyde
I'm not going for distance
With the Senator's persistence
I'm not trying to win a race
even at George Romney's pace.
I'm an existential runner,
Indifferent to space
I'm running here in place ...
Are you with me Jesus? [11]

In November 1967, McCarthy declared, "there comes a time when an honorable man simply has to raise the flag" to gauge the country's response and conduct a candidacy for the presidency of the United States by entering the New Hampshire Democratic primary.

On March 12, 1968, McCarthy came within 7 percentage points of defeating President Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire. Johnson subsequently withdrew from the election with this Shermanesque statement: "I shall not seek, and will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."


Tthe primary is scheduled to be held on January 10, 2012.[12]


2004 Democratic results

Candidate Votes  % Delegates
John Kerry 84,390 38.4 13
Howard Dean 57,761 26.3 9
Wesley Clark 27,314 12.4 0
John Edwards 26,487 12.1 0
Joseph Lieberman 18,911 8.6 0
Dennis Kucinich 3,114 1.4 0
Richard Gephardt 419 0.2 0
Al Sharpton 347 0.2 0
George W. Bush 257 0.1 0
Other 1,000 0.5 0
Total 219,787 100 22 (of 27)

Sources: Union-Leader (Manchester, NH), CNN, New Hampshire Department of State

2004 Republican results

Candidate Votes  % Delegates
George W. Bush 53,962 79.55 29
All Others 13,907 20.45
John Kerry 3,009 4.44
Howard Dean 1,888 2.78
Wesley Clark 1,467 2.16
Joseph Lieberman 941 1.39
John Edwards 916 1.35
Richard Boza 841 1.24
John Buchanan 836 1.23
John Rigazio 803 1.18
Robert Haines 579 0.85
Michael Callis 388 0.57
Blake Ashby 264 0.39
Millie Howard 239 0.35
Tom Laughlin 154 0.23
Bill Wyatt 153 0.23
Scatter 1393 2.05
Total 67,833 100 29

Sources: Concord Monitor, New Hampshire Department of State, [1], [2], [3]

2000 Democratic results

Candidate Votes  % Delegates
Al Gore 76,897 50 13
Bill Bradley 70,502 46 9
John McCain (write-in) 3,320 2 0
Other 3,920 2 0
Total 154,639 100 22 (of 27)

Source: CNN; Official returns at

2000 Republican results

Candidate Votes  % Delegates
John McCain 115,490 49 9
George W. Bush 72,262 30 6
Steve Forbes 30,197 13 2
Alan Keyes 15,196 6 0
Gary Bauer 1,656 1 0
Other 2,001 1 0
Total 236,802 100 17

Source: CNN

Winners and runners-up

Notes: Winner is listed first. Candidates in bold went on to win their party's nomination.


Primary Date Winner Runners-Up
January 8, 2008 Senator Hillary Clinton Senator Barack Obama, Former Senator John Edwards, Governor Bill Richardson, Representative Dennis Kucinich and Former Senator Mike Gravel.
January 27, 2004 Senator John Kerry Former Governor Howard B. Dean III, General Wesley K. Clark, Senator John Edwards, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich and Reverend Al Sharpton.
February 1, 2000 Vice President Al Gore Former Senator Bill Bradley
February 20, 1996 President Bill Clinton (no viable opposition)
February 18, 1992 Senator Paul Tsongas Governor Bill Clinton, Senator Bob Kerrey, Senator Tom Harkin, Former Governor Jerry Brown, and former mayor Larry Agran
February 16, 1988 Governor Michael Dukakis Congressman Richard A. "Dick" Gephardt, Senator Paul Simon, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, and Senator Al Gore
February 28, 1984 Senator Gary Hart Former Vice President Walter Mondale, Senator John Glenn, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, and Former Senator George McGovern
February 26, 1980 President Jimmy Carter Senator Edward Kennedy, and Governor Jerry Brown.
February 24, 1976 Governor Jimmy Carter Congressman Mo Udall, Senator Birch Bayh, Former Senator Fred R. Harris, and Former Ambassador R. Sargent Shriver
March 7, 1972 Senator Edmund Muskie Senator George McGovern and Mayor Samuel William Yorty
March 12, 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson Senator Eugene McCarthy
March 10, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson (no viable opposition)
March 8, 1960 Senator John F. Kennedy businessman Paul C. Fisher
March 13, 1956 Senator Estes Kefauver Former Governor Adlai Stevenson
March 11, 1952 Senator Estes Kefauver President Harry S. Truman

  • 1948: Unpledged delegates
  • 1944: Unpledged delegates
  • 1940: Unpledged delegates
  • 1936: Unpledged delegates
  • 1932: Unpledged delegates
  • 1928: Unpledged delegates
  • 1924: Unpledged delegates
  • 1920: Unpledged delegates
  • 1916: President T. Woodrow Wilson (unopposed)


Primary Date Winner Runners-Up
January 8, 2008 Senator John McCain Governor Mitt Romney, Governor Mike Huckabee, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Congressman Ron Paul, Senator Fred Thompson, Congressman Duncan Hunter
January 27, 2004 President George W. Bush (no viable opposition)
February 1, 2000 Senator John McCain Governor George W. Bush, Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes, Jr., Ambassador Alan Keyes, and Gary L. Bauer
February 20, 1996 Pat Buchanan Senator Bob Dole, Governor A. Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes, Senator Richard G. "Dick" Lugar, and Ambassador Alan Keyes
February 18, 1992 President George H. W. Bush Patrick J. "Pat" Buchanan
February 16, 1988 Vice President George H. W. Bush Senator Bob Dole, Congressman Jack F. Kemp, Jr., Governor Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont IV, and Reverend Marion G. "Pat" Robertson
February 28, 1984 President Ronald Reagan (no viable opposition)
February 26, 1980 Governor Ronald Reagan Ambassador George H. W. Bush, Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr., Congressman John B. Anderson, Congressman Philip M. "Phil" Crane, and Senator Bob Dole
February 24, 1976 President Gerald R. Ford Governor Ronald Reagan
March 7, 1972 President Richard Nixon Congressman Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, Jr. and Congressman John M. Ashbrook
March 12, 1968 former Vice President Richard M. Nixon Governor George Romney
March 10, 1964 Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.* Senator Barry M. Goldwater, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, and former Vice President Richard Nixon
March 8, 1960 Vice President Richard Nixon (no viable opposition)
March 13, 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower (no viable opposition)
March 11, 1952 General Dwight D. Eisenhower Senator Robert Taft and Governor Harold E. Stassen
1948 Governor Harold Stassen Governor Thomas E. Dewey

* - write-in candidate

Vice-Presidential results

A Vice-Presidential preference primary was also formerly held at the New Hampshire Primary. New Hampshire State Senator Jack Barnes, who won the 2008 Republican contest, co-sponsored a bill in 2009 which would eliminate the Vice Presidential preference ballot. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature and will take effect in 2012. [13]

The only time a non-incumbent won the Vice Presidential primary and then went on to be formally nominated by his or her party was in 2004, when Democratic U.S. Senator John Edwards won as a write-in candidate. (Edwards, who was running for President at the time, did not actively solicit Vice Presidential votes.)

In 1968, the sitting Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic Vice Presidential primary, and then later won the Presidential nomination after the sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson dropped out of the race.

The following candidates received the greatest number of votes at each election.

Year Date Republican Democratic Libertarian
2008 January 8 John Barnes, Jr. [14] Raymond Stebbins [15]
2004 January 27 Dick Cheney* John Edwards*
2000 February 1 William Bryk Wladislav D. Kubiak
1996 February 20 Colin Powell* Al Gore* Irwin Schiff*
1992 February 18 Herb Clark Jr. Endicott Peabody Nancy Lord*
1988 February 16 Wayne Green David Duke
1984 February 28 George Bush* Gerald Willis
1980 February 26 Jesse A. Helms Walter Mondale*
1976 February 24 Wallace Johnson Auburn Lee Packwood
1972 March 7 Spiro Agnew* Jorge Almeyda*
1968 March 12 Austin Burton Hubert Humphrey*
1964 March 10 Richard Nixon* Robert Kennedy*
1960 March 8 Wesley Powell* Wesley Powell*
1956 March 13 Richard Nixon* Adlai Stevenson*
1952 March 11 Styles Bridges* Estes Kefauver*

* - write-in candidate

Sources: New Hampshire Department of State, New Hampshire Political Library

See also

Early Votes

  • Ames (Iowa) Straw Poll on a Saturday in August prior to the election year, since 1979
  • Iowa caucus first official election year event since 1972

Reform Plans



  1. ^ a b Secretary of State of New Hampshire (undated). "How to register to vote in New Hampshire". Election Division, Secretary of State of New Hampshire. Retrieved 2008-01-14.  The term the state of N.H. uses for voters not affiliating with a party is "undeclared" See the section entitled "Political Parties" in the source.
  2. ^ Election 2008: Presidential, Senate and House Races Updated Daily
  3. ^ Scala 2003
  4. ^ Rebecca B. Morton, Learning by Voting: Sequential Choices in Presidential Primaries and Other Elections (2001) p. 24
  5. ^ William G. Mayer, The making of the presidential candidates 2004 pp. 106-7 online
  6. ^ CQ Politics | A History of U.S. Presidential Primaries: 1912-64
  7. ^ "Corn crack gets Gregg an earful". Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  8. ^ Steven S. Smith, Reforming the Presidential Nomination Process (2009) p. 143
  9. ^ David A. Hopkins, Presidential Elections: Strategies and Structures of American Politics (12th ed. 2007) p. 108
  10. ^ - New Hampshire Almanac - First-in-the-Nation - Highlights
  11. ^ Society on the Run: A European View of Life Werner Peters page xi contribution by Senator Eugene McCarthy
  12. ^ New Hampshire to vote Jan. 10
  13. ^
  14. ^ Presidential Primary Election January 8
  15. ^ Presidential Primary Election January 8

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