The Primacy of New Hampshire’s First-In-The-Nation Election
Every four years for nearly half a century, New Hampshire has captured national headlines with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary, and enlivened the process of electing our presidents. Being first hardly explains its consistent appeal. The state has singular geographic, governmental and communal characteristics not found anywhere else, much of which accounts for its perpetual political attraction.
It is a relatively small state, with the bulk of its 1,147,000 population concentrated in a fifty-mile band which extends 125 miles from the seacoast to Vermont, along the southern border by Massachusetts. Two major airports are conveniently located within the fifty-mile band which provides convenient access for candidates with countrywide travel schedules.
It is compact, easy to traverse, replete with diverse communities and their equally versatile inhabitants engaged in a wide diversity of employment. The region to the north is a splendid mixture of spectacular mountains and sparkling lakes, of scenic beauty for which the state is world renown. It is this North Country which shapes the Granite State’s public image, and serves as nature’s rich backdrop for the visiting media.
We inhabit a small, homogeneous area where our citizens enjoy a unity of purpose and quality of life unequalled elsewhere. We honor the right of privacy and the privilege of "doing our own thing." We abhor big government and resist it to what extent we can. The welcome mat is always out, not only from the citizens as individuals, but at the government level where major presidential candidates are invited to address the entire Legislature at the State House.
New Hampshirites probably have more and broader experience with elections than most Americans, as one of only two states that limitits govemors to a two-year tenn. State Archivist Frank C. Mevers says, "New Hampshire has elected more governors than any other state in the nation." To keep the Governor in check we elect five Executive Councilors, chosen statewide by districts, who hold a veto power over the Chief Executive on his appointments and the awarding of state contracts. A general statewide election for these offices is held every other year.
We’re proud of our 400-member state legislature, largest in the country, also elected biennially. Concurrently, we fill eighty offices within our ten counties. This creates a major reshuffling of local candidates even in the off-years when there is no presidential election. Annual town meetings are conducted throughout the state, where citizens choose their selectmen, town clerks, planning boards, checklist supervisors, and a myriad of other local officials responsible for administering their communities.
It is doubtful that any other state conducts as many elections with greater frequency. In 1995-96, Manchester, the state’s largest city, held six citywide elections during a period of twelve months. We're always in an election mode; it’s a way of life for our citizens that results not only in extensive political experience but a very serious approach to participatory involvement in government at all levels. Our tradition of political vitality goes way back to 1888 when 91% of the state’s 99,432 registered voters cast their votes for governor.
We’re a strong home-rule state where people take part in civic affairs with enthusiasm. Political leadership comes from the grass roots, complemented by a plethora of unpaid commissions supervising many vital agencies of state government, all as a part of our unique governmental structure. At some time during their life most New Hampshire residents will have held either an elective or an appointive public office.
During the quadrennial presidential primary season, national candidates spend considerable time in the state, allowing real voters the rare and invaluable opportunity of getting to know them on a personal level. Most campaigns start at least a year before election day. Traditionally, candidates have made the effort to shake hands and meet face to-face with as many people as time allows. They work long days, walk the streets, rap on doors, stand in town squares or on street comers, address service groups, using every conceivable method of individual contact with the New Hampshire voter. The only candidate who ever won here without following this time-tested procedure and became president was General Eisenhower.
Thus, our choices are made on the basis of direct acquaintance, not from packaged media salesmanship. As one former governor expressed it, "We expect to see the candidates, touch them, feel them, and smell them." We select individuals who display exceptional character in terms of reliability, integrity, and leadership. We develop what amounts to a "visceral" feeling about the candidates. The character of the person is often more important than the issues.
That we are discerning in assessing their potential is indicated by our experience over the years in correctly identifying the next president, while eliminating the weaker candidates whose efforts are usually terminated here, or soon thereafter. Columnist David Broder said it well, "I am firmly of the belief that the term ’front runner should never be applied to anyone until the voters in New Hampshire have performed their God-given right to sort out and shrink the presidential nomination field."
Only once since the start of the primaries have we made a misjudgment. The winner in 1992 who didn’t make it to the White House was favored solely because he was a well known U.S. Senator from a neighboring state. Brian Lamb, president of C-Span, said our primary is "always going to be important ... because you’re smart enough to figure out for yourselves if a candidate is pulling your chain."
Up here the candidate also gets measured by the weather. We figure that any foreigner who can slosh around in our snowdrifts without catching pneumonia or distemper can withstand the rigors of the presidency. The only other small primary state which might match that challenge would be North Dakota, but they honor our tradition by scheduling their primary a week after ours and mail in their ballots.
Because the candidates have more campaign time here, they frequently visit our high schools and colleges. Teachers devote classroom hours to the primary process and mock elections are held, where the candidates appear. Questions asked by students differ markedly from those of the standard press conference. Such opportunities not only serve to excite fresh perspectives, but provide the candidate with support from first-time voters, many of whom would otherwise have no interest in the primary process.
Since the mid- I 800s when New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, was President, the state has generally elected Republicans as its leaders at all levels of government. After the introduction of the presidential primary, voter registration has consistently held a rough average of 38% Republican, 32% Democrat, and 30% Independent. This has provided a sound sampling for either a Republican or Democratic primary.
Further, this nearly equilibrant distribution of political representation creates a favorable testing ground for the platform of all presidential candidates. Republicans and Democrats are restricted to voting only for the respective candidates of their own party. Independents may pick up the ballot of either party, thereby allowing substantial effect on election results.
Voters who choose to register as Independents have the flexibility of voting in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Once they’ve made such selection on election day, they can revert to Independent status, not committed to a political party. For those who are handicapped or otherwise unable to go to the polls on election day, New Hampshire encourages absentee voting.
Registration may also be accomplished on the day of the election simply by providing identification as a resident in the appropriate voting precinct. Consistently, over the years, New Hampshire has led the country in the percentage of votes cast in presidential primaries.
Within the mix of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, there is an equally good spread of liberals, moderates, and conservatives. While relatively new on the political scene with less than 1% of registered voters, the Libertarian party has shown strength in New Hampshire, having elected more legislative members than elsewhere. Again this is a tribute to the political sophistication and prudence of the New Hampshire voter.
Presidential candidates find ballot access in New Hampshire to be exceptionally easy compared to other states. In most jurisdictions, the names appearing on the ballot are determined by the secretary of state, a special committee, or by petitions from registered voters, thus, making it difficult for the unknown or under-financed candidate to participate in their primaries. Other than adhering to the constitutional requirements of being 35 years old, a natural-born citizen of the United States, and living in the country for fourteen years, anyone willing to pay a fee of $1,000 who is a member of a political party recognized in New Hampshire can have his name on the ballot.
We offer a level playing field to anyone who aspires to the presidency. Winning candidates are permitted to select their own delegates to their national convention. They not only can choose their delegates, but are apportioned based on the percentage of votes received at the polls. The candidate who works hard but does not win will still be entitled to some representation at his national convention, providing he received at least 10% of the total votes cast by his party. New Hampshire has never had a winner-take-all system, used by an increasing number of states whereby the runners-up get nothing.
To give every candidate equal opportunity at all precincts, the law requires rotation of their names on the ballot so that everyone gets a turn being listed at the top of the ballot an equal number of times. It is a system accomplished randomly by computer, offering the lesser-known competitors a chance for improved name identification.
It’s relatively inexpensive to campaign in New Hampshire. Because of the compactness of the area, most candidates have operated out of a single headquarters in Manchester or Concord, from which they can readily service all parts of the state. An effective organization can be run with a smaller paid staff than in larger states. An unlimited supply of experienced volunteers is always available here. Travel requirements are reduced as buses are commonly used to move the campaign entourage.
To save money, candidates often choose to seek lodging in the homes of supporters, who are more than willing to host coffees and receptions for them as well. Even fringe candidates have been accommodated by being allowed to stay in churches, private residences, or college dormitories.
Media costs are considerably less. We have only one major commercial television station that covers the entire state, one statewide newspaper, eight regional dailies, the usual assortment of local weekly newspapers and radio stations. Customarily, candidates’ contacts with voters in other states are limited to television sound bites, large public indoor events, or greetings on airport tarmacs. Because we meet them one-on-one, as frequently as we wish, we are not unduly influenced by political advertising. That you cannot purchase victory in the Granite State through television and radio was an expensive lesson learned by Steve Forbes in 1996.
A major advantage for the candidate is the extensive concentration of national and international media, who schedule accommodations a year in advance to stay here for the last week of the primary. While national press coverage is spotty in the early stages of a candidate’s campaign, local reporters track his every visit from the time of his announcement. Near election day, when there's a saturation of media, it is occasionally true, as William Safire, wrote in the New York Times, that candidates "are unable to climb over a cameraman to touch a voter." But their presence translates into free television, radio and print exposure.
Best of all, publicity from New Hampshire comes early in the national race, offering quick countrywide name identification for the candidate who might otherwise remain relatively obscure. Noted by CNN's anchorman Bernard Shaw, "It’s important for journalists to listen to real voters express their views."
The media enjoy coming here. They make capital of our renowned covered bridges, wrinkled apple orchards and fragrant sugar houses - ideal photo opportunities in which to capture eager candidates. For example, when George Bush was campaigning here in 1992, he disembarked from his limousine to shake hands with a cow. The next day, the photo was on the front page of the New York Times. A few days later Newsweek published one in full color.
While some candidates may not qualify for considerable network time, our small local newspapers and radio talk shows enthusiastically give maximum exposure to all competitors, regardless of their position in the polls. Using these sources, candidates frequently come up with ideas that help frame political debate as they utilize such cost-free medium for presenting them to the voter.
Years of experience have made it easy for out-of-state media to piggyback with our facilities. National television crews merge with ours; radio and print press move in with local peers; C-Span, CNN, and PBS find adequate space to establish temporary studios. The political pundits tell us how comfortable and convenient it is for them to cover the state from a location in Manchester or Concord.
I’s a cherished bit of history that our first real experience with national media occurred in 1948 when the twelve registered voters of Hart’s Location, a town in Crawford Notch, cast their votes at one minute after midnight of election day. Even though it occurred in the very early days of television, the story of casting the first ballots in a presidential race received instant cross-country publicity. The residents continued voting first until 1964, when the precedent shifted. It is now carried on by the citizens of Dixville Notch, another small White Mountains community. Dixville has been proclaimed by the Governor and Executive Council as the official start of our first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
A successful statewide campaign can be run in the Granite State for $500,000. Presidential candidates who qualify for federal funds, as most of them do, are limited to a relatively small spending cap, $618,200 in 1996. The federal limit in larger states is substantially higher. Neighboring Massachusetts had a cap of $2,295,748 in 1996. In such states, the candidate is required to substitute an inordinate amount of valuable "hand-shaking time" for fundraising events. Presidential campaign fundraising dinners are seldom held here.
Polling has become so widespread that candidates tend to rely on it to identify popular issues for inclusion in their campaign platforms. The surveys are normally based on relatively small group samplings, up to a thousand people. Smaller focus groups sometimes serve the same purpose. New Hampshire, however, with its urban and rural population, offers a far more objective and diversified base to gauge public opinion. Well before election day, the candidates working here get a real sense of what’s important and what will "resonate’ " After the only poll that really counts, the one on election day, the candidate has learned from New Hampshire what adjustments must be made in order to proceed in the big national race. Through a relatively easy and inexpensive campaign, he discovers whether he has the substance to survive subsequent primaries.
The Secret Service often plays a vital part in the New Hampshire presidential process. Some candidates, if they are entitled to it, welcome the utility it provides in creating a presidential ambiance for their entourage. Experience has demonstrated, however, that most candidates view it as a restriction of their mobility. When an incumbent president or vice president runs, restriction is mandatory.
To gain early Secret Service protection a request must be made to a special Congressional committee. If granted, security has been arranged as early as a month before election day, but is usually not provided until within proximity of the day itself. If a candidate wins or remains in the competition after the election here, then he is normally assigned agents for as long as he remains a viable competitor in the national race.
Here again is a distinct New Hampshire advantage in that without Secret Service a candidate needs no preplanned itineraries and can meet the voters in any environment. After New Hampshire, along with the many benefits which the Service provides, the candidate must also accept the restraints. For in-face campaigning the state offers the best opportunity of getting closer to the electorate.
The Lesser Known Candidates Who File In New Hampshire
The primary’s increased popularity and easy access have encouraged a number of lesser known or so-called "fringe" candidates to participate. In 1992 there were only seven major candidates running for president, yet sixty other names were on the ballot. In addition to ten majors in 1996, thirty-five others sought the job. The distinction between a major and a fringe candidate is an arbitrary one made by the national media. To he rated as a "major" by the media, a candidate must have the source of enough money to support a national campaign or have held major public elective or appointive office. All others are referred to as "fringe."
Perhaps the standards used by the national media to gauge key presidential competitors need revision. In 1992 Democratic candidate Larry Agran was angry to have been deemed "fringe" and ignored by the national press, even though he was a Harvard Law School graduate, a published author, and had served twelve years as mayor of Irvine, California. Roger Mudd, reporting on Agran’s presidential aspirations on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, made the unfortunate comment, "It does stretch credulity to think that a Jewish exmayor of a small California town can make it."
In 1996, both Alan Keyes, known primarily as an author-speaker and Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and "Morry" Taylor, recognized principally as a successful millionaire businessman, were considered major candidates and saturated with media attention. Agran had received 331 votes in 1992, yet even with all their public attention and press-covered appearances in 1996, Keyes received only 5,572, and Taylor 2,944. How many votes would Agran have garnered had he received equal treatment for the public’s attention?
Many colorful people or those with bizarre ideas have either joined the race in past years or have come to New Hampshire only to be deterred by the $1,000 filing fee. Austin Burton (alias Chief Burning Wood) once tried to pay his fee by mailing the Secretary of State a of snakeskin. Dressed as Uncle Sam and hurrying meet the filing deadline, Sam Rouseville got nabbed for speeding and didn’t make it to Concord. to devise a training course to prevent a possible takeover by UFOS. Princess Runningwaters arrived decked out in animal skins. Arthur 0. Blessitt lugged a colossal wooden cross across the state. Roger Durett, costumed in the familiar white suit, was not permitted to file as Mark Twain, nor to represent the Mugwump party. Willie Felix Carter, a black church deacon from Texas. said he was "a son of the Lord Jesus Christ ... the Lord showed me a vision ... to become President."
Russell Fomwalt recommended the military should occupy high schools to prevent violence. "Love 22" handed out $22 dollar bills with his Uncle Sam likeness centered on the currency as if he were Thomas Jefferson. Inventor Paul Fisher made friends by giving away his pressurized Fisher Space Pens that can write upside down. "Milko" said he was Robinhood. Robert F. Drucker wrote a book to promote the revision of our federal Constitution to form a new government and currency system, linking North America, Central America and the Caribbean basin. Poet Ray Rollinson claimed to be the grandson of Crazy Horse and his wife was the "Magic Princess."
Democrat Lyndon H. LaRouche who had run here in 1980,1988, and 1992, returned in 1996 after five years in the federal pen for mail fraud and conspiracy, to attack the "unbalanced minds" of Republican leadership in Washington, Libertarian Irwin Schiff who had spent three years in jail said he was a "political prisoner" because there is no law requiring the payment of income taxes and he hadn’t. Felons aren’t allowed to vote but they can run for president - a curious dichotomy.
Frank B. Legas, the "common sense candidate" from California, found a congenial home by running a classified ad in the Concord Monitor describing himself as a "frugal presidential candidate. Quiet, non-smoking, attends daily Mass." He proposed an 800 number "national opinion survey" to contact all voters for their views on critical issues and to give legislative direction to the Congress. Both Legas and his cabinet would serve for $1 per year and he "would not serve a second term unless 85% of the voters requested that."
David Pauling’s forty-page tract, "The Truth If You Can Handle It!" was sold for $5 "less if you can’t afford it, more if you can." William Flanagan would allow a $50 federal tax credit for anyone who would adopt an animal, $100 if neutered. Democrat Ben Tomeo sent the President and members of Congress a lengthy dissertation entitled, The Most Incredible Material and Spiritual Wrong Story Ever Told. He believed his evidence "would have derailed" Clinton’s election in 1992. A songwriter, he promoted his talent with audiocassettes of country music. Vermin Supreme wearing a boot on his head and carrying A giant toothbrush called himself "the friendly fascist, a tyrant you can trust." Fred Stinick Was the "Messiah" and handed out business cards promising "Zillions for all the world.".
Others had novel slogans. Afro-American Lenora Fulani said she was "A leader of a different color." When Caroline Killeen, an environmentalist, was running against George Bush, it was, "America needs trees, not bushes." When she ran against Clinton, it was, "Let Clinton inhale" Dick Bosa urged you not to spell his name backwards. Sal Casamassima "Be Unreasonable! - For a Change." As a dark horse competitor, Ronald W. Spangler "The Murky Man." Perhaps the most subtle catchwords came from an, Pat Paulsen, "We can't stand pat."
In 1996 forty-five individuals signed up to participate in the primary, which included the five fringe candidates. Twenty-two registered as Republicans, twenty-one were also two Libertarians, who were counted as fringe. Five women and two blacks filed.
The lesser known competitors listed various occupations. There were ten authors, three lawyers, two businessmen, two software programmers, two mayors, two registered nurses, a minister, a doctor, a CPA, an aircraft mechanic, an AIDs activist, a former FBI agent, a professional comedian, a building contractor, a public relations counselor, a former nun, an investment consultant, a real estate broker, a process server and a sign language interpreter. Included in the group were two men who had been confined to federal prison, a homosexual, a lesbian, and two men over eighty years old, one of whom was eighty-seven.
The first potential candidate who declared for the 1996 election was a marine veteran from Georgia whose ad in the July 4, 1993 edition of the New Hampshire Sunday News announced: "Tate for President, Republican, ‘96." He was never heard from again. Jack Trinsey mailed a $10 check to the Secretary of State as his $1,000 filing fee on the theory that the fee was in reality a poll tax in violation of his constitutional rights. When the $10 was rejected, Trinsey sued the Secretary in the Merrimack Superior Court. The court found for the state and the plaintiff never offered an additional $990.
Some potential candidates came to the state, campaigned, and had every intention of entering the fray, but encountered problems which prevented their filing. Robert Edward Haines had received instant national fame at Washington in October of 1994 when he assisted in tackling a gunman who had fired a few rounds at the White House. He began his 1996 campaign by showing up at our State House in January of 1995 wearing a white cowboy hat and a belt buckle. He identified himself as an honorary Texas Ranger. He was later jailed in Manchester for wearing a bullet-proof vest and brandishing a rifle. Then he couldn’t raise enough money for his legal defense fund, so that he could continue his campaign based on the theme: The first potentialTo make America a safe place to live."
A newcomer who didn’t make it to the Secretary of State’s office was Tom Shellenberg. A certified public accountant, he had sold his home and business to raise about $30,000 to invest in his campaign. For a contribution of $100 or more he offered a free copy of his book, Balance the Budget Now & I-low. The title didn’t explain whether the government’s budget or his was being balanced. C-Span told his story on its weekly program, Road To The White House. After no one showed up for his appearance at Dover City Hall, frustrated and running out of cash he concluded that his message of balancing the budget was not resonating with the voters. He gave up saying, "The adventure was worthwhile.... Many lessons were learned."
Another professional who did not last to the filing period was Dr. Myron Schoenfeld, a cardiologist, Phi Beta Kappa, and recipient of a distinguished Alumnus Award from the Chicago Medical School. He promised to be a "citizen-president" and campaigned as "a white knight uncontaminated with the corruption of politics-as-usual.’ He strove to be "doctor to the nation" and prove that anyone can become president. Yet, after a whirlwind canvass of the state during which he spent nearly $50,000 of his own money, and unable to raise additional funds from fellow doctors, he concluded that maybe anyone could not become president.
A number of candidates deliberately ran aggressive campaigns for write-in votes because they did not want their names on the ballot. Several of them actually used paid advertising while others ballyhooed their messages with "standouts" in front of shopping centers. Some distributed well-designed promotional material. Jack Mabardy, who said he’d made between 45-65 visits to the southern part of the state, was typical of that group. He considered himself "gifted" and was "so much in touch with various avenues of reality" about which the average person had no concept. His reason for not wanting to file formally was because "there are too many people on the ballot." His platform included enacting federal laws of life imprisonment for anyone who abused or tortured birds, domestic or wild animals, or even hunters who shot deer.