an official New Hampshire government website
 Home Visitors Residents Business Government



New Hampshire Almanac >First-in-the-Nation

Outline of New Hampshire

First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary

By Hugh Gregg
Hugh, Gregg. "New Hampshire’s First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary", State of New Hampshire Manual for the General Court, (Department of State) No.55, 1997.


Highlights of Primary History

      General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose previous party affiliation was unknown, was commanding NATO in Europe when his name was placed on the Republican ballot by friends in New Hampshire. He defeated long-time Republican leader, Senator Robert A. Taft. Ike never came into the state during the primary. New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams became his Chief of Staff in the White House.
      On the Democratic side, Senator Estes Kefauver, snowmobiling in his coonskin cap, upset incumbent President Harry S. Truman who was thus discouraged from running for reelection.

      When Eisenhower was up for a second term and Richard M. Nixon was his vice president, it was commonly known that Ike did not want Nixon on the reelection ticket. On their own, Nixon’s Republican friends, led by Senator Styles Bridges, engineered a vice-presidential write-in effort for Nixon, which garnered 22,936 votes, thus assuring Nixon’s place on the Eisenhower team.

      The University of New Hampshire had invited Senator John F. Kennedy to be the keynote speaker at a convocation the day before the primary. Kennedy’s only opponent on the Democratic ballot, Paul C. Fisher, uninvited and claiming discrimination, barged into the party and delivered a twelve-minute address on his platform to abolish taxes. Kennedy got 43,372 votes; Fisher garnered 6,853.

      While Henry Cabot Lodge was serving as Ambassador to South Vietnam, his son and friends mounted a winning write-in campaign on the Republican ballot which defeated both Senator Barry M. Goldwater and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, both of whom had stumped arduously everywhere in the Granite State. Lodge, like Eisenhower in 1952, never came to New Hampshire during the primary. Goldwater eventually won the Republican nomination then lost to Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson in the fall general election.
      In November of 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated. The country was in a state of mourning, thus there were no filings for either president or vice president on the 1964 Democratic ballot the following March. Significantly, several thousand people took the trouble to write in their votes. Lyndon Baines Johnson won with 29,317 write-ins, while Robert Kennedy, John’s brother, received 25,094 write-in votes for vice president.

      Republican Governor of Michigan George Romney launched his presidential campaign from his summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee, only to be washed out when he said he had been "brainwashed" into favoring the Vietnam War.
      Incumbent President Johnson did not file, but received write-ins totaling 50% of all Democratic votes cast. Senator Eugene McCarthy, who campaigned actively against Johnson’s Vietnam war policies, was on the ballot. He received an impressive 41% of the vote and gained more delegates than the President. Johnson was so stunned that he did not run for reelection. Twenty-four years later in 1992, McCarthy ran a second time and received only 211 votes.

      When Republican Richard Nixon was running for a second term as President, many party leaders felt that his Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was not a strong enough candidate for the reelection ticket. Surprisingly, Agnew picked up an all-time record high of 45,524 write-in votes for Vice President - and that settled the matter. Some time later, both men were forced to resign from office in disgrace.
      In the Democratic primary, Maine Senator Edmund S. Muskie allegedly sobbed at a rally in front of the Manchester Union Leader building, while reacting to an editorial and letter relating to the Senator’s wife which had been reprinted on the front page of the paper by its publisher William Loeb. Muskie defeated Senator George McGovern, 46% to 37%. Yet the media touted Muskie as the loser because they reasoned that, as a New Hampshire neighbor, his winning percentage should have been greater.

      Georgia’s Democratic Governor Jimmy Carter entered the New Hampshire primary as a total stranger who was referred to as "Jimmy Who?" With only a quarter of the total Democratic votes cast, he defeated Senators Morris K. Udall and Birch Bayh, and went on to win the presidency. Although Carter- was totally unknown when he came into the state he won the primary, from sheer perseverance in a traditional one-on-one grass roots campaign.
      In the Republican contest, with 119,880 votes cast, incumbent President Gerald R. Ford defeated former California Governor Ronald Reagan by 1,587 votes for the closest race in presidential primary history.

      Republican Ronald Reagan topped George Bush and five other major candidates. Reagan had brought the five other uninvited candidates to what was scheduled as a Bush-Reagan, two-man debate in Nashua. When the host denied the "interlopers" the right to speak, Reagan stunned the crowd by taking command: "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green!"
      Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois, a Republican, received 9.8% of the Republican vote. He needed an extra .2% to qualify for a delegate, so he called for a recount. The recount did not change the percentage and Anderson subsequently left the party, then ran in November as an Independent.
      Running on the Democratic ballot, candidate Lyndon R. LaRouche received .0157% of the total Democratic votes cast. Yet he, too, called for a recount. Obviously, he still didn’t win and his percentage was even less after the recount.
      Incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter was opposed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who received only 10% fewer votes than the President. Carter’s weak support from his own party contributed to Reagan’s victory in the fall election.

      Democratic Senator Gary Hart bested Vice President Walter R Mondale. Subsequently Mondale scored in the press with his repeated question to Hart, "Where's the beef." Eventually, he fell out of public favor because of his indiscreet relationship with Donna Rice.

      Republican Vice President Bush prevailed over Senator Bob Dole by his reference to Dole as "Senator Straddle," resulting in Dole’s acerbic post-election response, "Stop lying about my record." Bush beat Michael Dukakis in the general election and New Hampshire Governor John Sununu became his Chief of Staff.

      Incumbent President George Bush was damaged though not defeated by Patrick J. Buchanan because Bush had defaulted from his earlier campaign promise, "Read my lips. No new taxes." Bush went on to lose to Democratic Arkansas Governor Clinton in the general election.
      Clinton found himself in deep trouble when challenged about his relationship with Jennifer Flowers. Yet, as the "comeback kid," he survived the victory of favorite son Paul E. Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts. Clinton thus became the only presidential candidate to succeed to the White House without first winning the New Hampshire primary.
      No incumbent vice president running for reelection has ever taken the opportunity to file separately on the ballot as vice president; rather, they have always relied on the popularity of their presidential candidate to reelect them. Former Democratic Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody was irritated that Republican Vice President Dan Quayle did not so file. Peabody, to force a vice presidential confrontation, signed up as a Democratic candidate for vice president and, with a friend dressed in a yellow chicken suit, taunted Vice President Quayle to debate as a vice presidential competitor. Quayle never did. but Peabody got 34,633 votes.

      A political novice, Republican Steve Forbes allegedly spent an all-time record of approximately $3 million in his New Hampshire campaign, probably as much as the combined expenditures of his principal competitors, only to end up in fourth place. General Colin Powell, who said he would not be a candidate for president or vice president, and for whom no organized campaign was undertaken, received 6,414 Republican write-in votes.

      [NOTE: A complete accounting of presidential primary election results, from 1952 through 1992, is recorded in the Appendix of the book A TALL STATE REVISITED by Hugh Gregg, published by Resources of New Hampshire, Inc. It lists all the participants, vote counts, percentages, names of delegates and alternate delegates.]

In Summary: Precedents

      Richard M. Nixon holds the record for having won the most New Hampshire primaries: three, in 1960, 1968, 1972. When he ran for president in 1960 only fifteen other states and the District of Columbia had primaries.
      Except for Bill Clinton in 1996, no incumbent president running for reelection who faced no significant opposition on the party's New Hampshire ballot has ever been defeated for a second term as President: Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956; Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964; Richard M. Nixon in 1972; Ronald Reagan in 1984; Bill Clinton in 1996.
      Although several women have participated in the primaries, no woman of national stature has ever filed. In 1992, Lenora B. Fulani, running as a Democrat, qualified for $642,497 in federal matching funds, yet only received 402 Democratic votes.
      Former Minnesota Governor Harold E. Stassen is the honorary grandfather of the New Hampshire presidential primary, having been on the ballot six times, beginning in 1948, with a pledged delegate who didn’t win.
      Resulting from their primary campaign chairmanships two sitting New Hampshire governors, Sherman Adams and John Sununu, were appointed Chiefs of Staff at the White House. | privacy policy | accessibility policy | site map | contact us Copyright (c) State of New Hampshire, 2012