Election 2008: History and Present of New Hampshire Primary

Michael P. Chaney
President and CEO, New Hampshire Political Library
Tuesday, January 8, 2008 12:00 PM

New Hampshire Political Library president Michael P. Chaney was online Tuesday, Jan. 8 at noon ET to take your questions about the history of the New Hampshire Primary and how tonight's vote is likely to play out.

The transcript follows.


Carrboro, N.C.: Hey there -- can you talk a bit about whether or not the populism of John Edwards is registering in New Hampshire? My impression is that New Hampshire is a wealthier state in general and that this is less likely to draw a lot of support. Then again, I also imagine New Hampshire residents don't like the idea of corporations running their government, either. Of course, I may understand New Hampshire very poorly. How's Edwards doing, in your view?

Michael P. Chaney: Edwards is pushing as a populist and a defender of the average person without a voice. He is a distinct choice compared to the "experience vs. change" of the other two. New Hampshire is a wealthy state and the majority of voters are in the southern-tier Portsmouth-Manchester-Nashua triangle. This is in commuting distance from Boston. Clinton appeals to more of the working-class Democrats, whereas Obama is collecting support from more of a professional sector. Edwards will have a healthy segment in between. He has been here and has worked hard. Electability will weigh heavily on the 35 percent of the voters who were still undecided two days ago.


Reston, Va.: I just saw on the AP Wire that Hillary was just caught on the verge of crying ("tearing up") and her voice quaking at New Hampshire restaurant campaign stop. Was this an Edwin Muskie moment? What effect might this have? I can't see any upside to this.

washingtonpost.com: 'It's Not Easy,' An Emotional Clinton Says (Post, Jan. 8)

Michael P. Chaney: As a roomful of us watched the footage last night, we did feel that her moment will enter the collection of memorable moments in the New Hampshire primary. It's not to the level of the Muskie breakdown, but more of a reflection of the sheer exhaustion of all these candidates after the grueling pace. The Iowa caucus was Thursday, a national debate on Saturday, the New Hampshire primary Tuesday -- that's a pace that would test anyone, and the scrutiny after the Iowa result is intense. As we know by seeing these candidates up close and in person, they are human beings. Emotion isn't necessarily a bad thing.


Princeton, N.J.: Pundits say that if Obama wins, Clinton is done. I just hate it that a sliver of a sliver of a sliver picks our candidates and ultimately the President. We have got to have a better system. Where are the inner cities in Iowa or New Hampshire? Where are the deserts? Where are the great industrial centers? Where are the ports? (Please don't give me Portsmouth). This is lunacy.

Michael P. Chaney: New Hampshire is just one primary in the process. Don't take to the bank that any candidate is done after the New Hampshire vote. New Hampshire is what it is -- a place where these half-million voters have had the opportunity to see, meet and talk to these candidates through several months. Take the result today: The media will interpret it, but we have five more contests in January and then more than two  dozen states on Feb. 5. The part of the process that needs to change is to spread the primary votes across a longer period of time. In 1968, the California primary was the first week in June after the the first primary was in early March.


Alexandria, Va.: Any way there might be an upset today and Clinton will win in New Hampshire?

Michael P. Chaney: We always like to count the actual votes. The dynamic of Obama, Edwards and Clinton messages are a real choice. Up until two days ago, 35 percent of New Hampshire voters had not made up their mind. The open primary enables the undeclared voter (45 percent of the electorate) to choose either Republican or Democratic primary.


Dallas: Has John McCain ever addressed his treatment during the 2000 election by the Bush campaign? I would like to support him, but he didn't stand up for himself then, and I don't know if he would be so willing to acquiesce to others.

Michael P. Chaney: Interesting point. McCain had a great campaign organization here in New Hampshire that knew how to campaign successfully here in light of Bush's limited schedule here. The problem was money and sustainability through the long process. You're right, he was slammed in South Carolina. McCain has pointed out what he thought of the treatment, but there wasn't much he could do without more campaign resources in that and other states.


Bethesda, Md.: Do you think the Central Committee of the Democratic Party is concerned about the direction the nominating process is going? I think Obama is an interesting candidate but I can't believe the DNC really wants him as its candidate in 2008.

Michael P. Chaney: The DNC Commission of Presidential Primary Scheduling that introduced the notion of adding two contests in January resulted in even more contests in that month. I do not believe that anyone intended to have a national primary in more than two dozen states on Feb. 5. This is the unintended consequence of the commission's work. We New Hampshire voters like to think that voters across the country ought to be responsible for selecting the nominee, rather than a committee of insiders.


Washington: Given that McCain has relatively few resources and Romney has lots, is there any chance Romney simply will do to McCain what Bush did to McCain back in 2000 (that is, destroy him in South Carolina)?

Michael P. Chaney: That is the real question for the race here in New Hampshire and beyond. The Romney campaign is very professional, thorough, and well-funded. The organization here has been in place for some time. It remains to be seen how that is replicated in other states. I believe it is a mistake to think that a campaign is done after the New Hampshire vote. It is one more result in the process.


Washington: Hi and thanks for taking questions. How do you think Huckabee will "play" in New Hampshire? His strong showing in Iowa aside, New Hampshire voters are a different sort. What are Romney's chances in New Hampshire? He was governor of Massachusetts, and New Hampshire is close by. Thanks.

Michael P. Chaney: Huckabee has been here and has a good organization, but resources for the long-haul are an issue. Expectations are not high here, so he will do well with even a third-place finish. His mettle will be shown in states with voters more in tune with the message he won with in Iowa.


Tampa, Fla.: What worries me about the pace of the primaries now is that the average voter does not have enough time to really learn about the candidates and make a well-informed decision. I would hate to think that people are jumping on the Obama bandwagon not because he has a definite grasp of the issues and a well-thought out and articulated plan for health care, the economy, etc., but because the public (and the press, for that matter) apparently has fallen in love with his charisma and oratory style.

Michael P. Chaney: That is the whole problem with the compressed, front-loaded primary schedule. We saw the first real tabulation of votes Thursday, you have five more contests in January, and then Tsunami Tuesday with more than two dozen states on Feb. 5. The primary schedule needs to be spread out over a longer period of time so that scrutiny of candidates on a national scale can be accomplished.


Princeton, N.J.: Look, it's bad enough that the electoral college gives votes in North Dakota five or six times the weight of my vote. You can't tell me the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire don't have many, many times the effect of my vote in the selection of a candidate. Frankly, I think I am better informed than the great majority of the voters there. What ever happened to "one man, one vote"?

Michael P. Chaney: We in New Hampshire feel strongly about our historic role since 1920 as the first in the nation primary. We also feel that what happens here ought to happen elsewhere. Candidates should have a primary schedule that allows them to campaign across the country and give voters the opportunity to engage candidates in the issues.


Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think Clinton has been treated unfairly within the Democratic Party campaign? I am not talking about from Rush Limbaugh and Drudge, but within the context of this campaign. Have Obama, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Richardson treated her any differently than any other candidate? Gore and Kerry also had likability questions, so she hasn't been treated differently on that issue either. So I just don't see her as a victim or the subject of any unfair treatment.

Michael P. Chaney: This is a highly competitive race, and the stakes are high.

I don't believe there is unfair treatment among the campaigns, I think it is an aggressive effort to shine the light of day on each other's vulnerabilities. There isn't too much personal attack, but there is clarification of the claims of the other candidate.


Boston: Is there a reasonable probability that this is the permanent end of Hilary's chances to become president? If she loses New Hampshire today (as expected) and can't stop Obama's momentum to the Democratic nomination, there is a strong chance Obama can ride the change tide to the presidency in November. Most presidents win a second term, which would make the next chance for Hilary in 2016. Wouldn't two things going against her at that point be the country's seeming trading of the White House back and forth between parties, as well as being a previous loser and passe? So, realistically, is this the end of the dream?

Michael P. Chaney: The primary process is just beginning. We have the Iowa result and four days of interpretation by the analysts. Let's get a few more actual votes counted in a variety of states before making conclusions. As one candidate's expectations decline, the scrutiny of the front-runner increases. We have a way to go before anything is concluded, but Feb. 5 will bring much closer to the conclusion.


Rocky Mount, N.C.: I know the rest of the country hates me and probably this question because I support Paul, so I'll tie it into other candidates. I see in the rules that to receive delegates in New Hampshire for the GOP, a candidate must get 10 percent of the vote. Do you see Huckabee, Paul and Giuliani all reaching double digits, or just Huckabee?

Michael P. Chaney: I'm not sure Ron Paul will get to double digits, and it's really hard to tell about Giuliani. A respectable showing wouldn't be surprising because the expectations are fairly low. He is upfront about running a national campaign, not an early state strategy. The battle remains between McCain and Romney. Huckabee is looking beyond to other states.


Bremerton, Wash.: We've got three inches of slushy snow here today. What's the weather like today in the Granite State, and how does it usually affect turnout?

Michael P. Chaney: It is sunny and practically T-shirt weather. Combine that with extraordinarily competitive primaries and more than 70 percent of New Hampshire voters will turn out.


Second-tier candidates?: Hello. Burning question: Will today's primary results cause a further winnowing of the second-tier candidates (particularly among the Republicans)? Thank you.

Michael P. Chaney: The attention here is the competitive Romney-McCain result.

Huckabee and Giuliani need to have a piece of the pie, but the expectations are not that high for them. Huckabee has other parts of the country more amenable to his conservative, Christian background, and Giuliani has made a point of running a national campaign, not reliant on any particular state.


Michael P. Chaney: Thanks to all of you. I'm sorry I have somewhere else to be.

I appreciate all of your questions and interest.


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