NEW HAMPSHIRE CAUCUSES: Meaning and Significance of a Primary by Adeyemi Oshunrinade


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Soon after the Iowa Caucuses, Republican candidates began their campaigns for the next step the New Hampshire Caucuses. Analysts continue daily to predict what might happen in New Hampshire as some are quick to conclude the outcome in New Hampshire, will make or break one or more of the candidates. Based on past caucuses, it is common to see one or two candidate drop out of the race when there is clear indication from the results it is unnecessary to continue the campaign.

The New Hampshire primary was the first recognized indication of what candidate would win the party’s nomination, before the Iowa caucuses, gained national attention in the 1970s. The people of New Hampshire have always defended their primary as the major determinant of who becomes President of the United States; voters of New Hampshire always downplay the importance of the Iowa caucus even though, Iowa caucuses are held about a week before the New Hampshire primary. To drive home their message, it is not uncommon to hear New Hampshire voters say “the people of Iowa pick corn, the people of New Hampshire pick Presidents.”

New Hampshire began to achieve its current importance in the political arena and the Presidential selection process, in 1952 after the State simplified its ballot access laws in an effort to boost voter turnout in 1949. Since 1952 it has been the testing ground for both the Republican and the Democratic candidates.

In the recent years, candidates who perform better than expected in Iowa have seen the New Hampshire primary as a step forward and hope for a turnaround in the nomination process. In the January 2012 Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney the Republican frontrunner beat Rick Santorum another candidate by just 8 votes; the slight difference in the turnout has since energized the Santorum side to intensify his campaign in New Hampshire.

One great advantage of the New Hampshire primary is that candidates that are less known are soon thrown to the limelight and given media attention. Due to such opportunity, it is not impossible to see a candidate who wins in Iowa, loose in New Hampshire if suddenly a less competitive candidate becomes a serious contender based on his or her strong showing in Iowa.

Some Presidential candidates have seen their hope for reelection ended as a result of a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary. For example, President Lyndon Johnson, who as a write-in candidate won over Eugene McCarthy in 1968 by just 49-42 percent of the votes; he won fewer candidates than McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, which forced him to withdraw from the race ending his reelection.

Candidates who win in New Hampshire have not always gone on to win their party’s nomination. Examples of Republican candidates who won in New Hampshire but fail to get their party’s nomination are; Harold Stassen in 1948, Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and Senator John McCain in 2000. Democrats also have their fair share; Estes Kefauver in 1952 and 1956, Paul Tsongas in 1992, and Secretary of States Hillary Clinton in 2008 who beat President Obama in New Hampshire but failed to win her party’s nomination.

The year 1992 changed the way New Hampshire results are viewed as to who takes the White House. Before then, the person elected President had always won the New Hampshire primary until Bill Clinton, who lost the primary to Paul Tsonga but became President. Likewise, George W. Bush lost in New Hampshire to Senator John McCain in 2000 but won the Presidency and President Barack Obama who in 2008 lost the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton but went ahead to take the white House.

Among the importance of the New Hampshire primary is the fact that unlike a caucus, the process measures the number of votes each candidate get directly, rather than through precinct delegates as we have in the Iowa caucuses. Through the popular vote, lesser viable candidates are able to demonstrate their appeal and competitiveness to the electorate at large. Also, the New Hampshire primary allows voters that are undeclared on their party of choice the opportunity to vote in a party’s primary. The voter must officially join a party in order to vote; however, the voter is allowed to change his party affiliation back to undeclared after voting.

Voters who already have party affiliation are not allowed to change their party at the polling place. They are only allowed to do so before the checklist is closed weeks before the election; new voters may register at the election site and all voting is done via paper ballots.

One of the critiques of the New Hampshire primary as the first in the nation, comes from Democrats who think the state is not ethnically diverse and therefore, not representative of the nation’s electorates; Census data taken in 2000 show the ratio of minority residents to be six times smaller than the national average; with 96% non-Hispanic White versus 75% nationally. New Hampshire has a large number of registered independents with about 37% registered as such, making it to be considered a swing state.

The media attention on the 2012 primary taking place in New Hampshire saw some candidates benefiting from the frenzy. Rick Santorum who came second in Iowa, raised a million dollars immediately after the election that saw him losing to Mitt Romney by just 8 votes; so far, it is fair to say New Hampshire is open to any candidate even though, many believe Mitt Romney will take New Hampshire just as he won in Iowa.

Since 1952 the New Hampshire primary has been one of the major testing grounds for candidates from both parties. It is a path to the party’s nomination even though, sometimes, a win in New Hampshire does not seal a nomination; but as a non-closed primary, the state serves as a unique example in the American political process.

Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations, and the United Nation. He is the author of ‘Murder of Diplomacy’ (2010) and ‘Wills Law and Contests’ (2011); follow on twitter @san0670.

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Categories: Politics

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