What history tells us about the New Hampshire primary winner

Jan 11, 2012

Mitt Romney is the first-ever non-incumbent Republican to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

Chat with historian Ellen Fitzpatrick about what history tells us about the New Hampshire primary winner, and how Mitt Romney falls into this group. Want to know what Romney's win in New Hampshire might mean for the rest of his campaign? Ask Ellen.

Submit your questions and opinions now.

Greetings Washington Post readers. This is Ellen Fitzpatrick. I'm a Professor of History at the University of  New Hampshire and looking forward to discussing the New Hampshire primary with you today.

What role does campaign spending play in New Hampshire, and has this changed over the decades? Have there been many candidates (perhaps Eugene McCarthy?) who may not have spent much money yet connected with New Hampshire voters? Does a large spending advantage create a large advantage in the New Hampshire Primary?

Campaign spending grows in importance everywhere, including NH. Mitt Romney spent heavily here. I think having cash on hand certainly helps, especially with television advertising. It is an advantage for sure

I was reading over the excerpts of Governor Romney's speech and was struck by how vitriolic and divisive it was towards President Obama. This is a sharp contrast to then Senator Obama's speech (which was after a close loss to Senator Clinton) which was the first "Yes We Can" speech which acknowledged that everyone had valid ideas and that we should be attempting to unite rather than divide. I was wondering, in your memory can you remember any New Hampshire primary winner from either party who was so angry in his speech who went on to win an election?

An excellent observation. Primaries are generally focused on the parties - and thus the tone is often meant to rally the base. They have a national audience too, though, that is watching carefully. And you rightly note the downside of trying to rally the party faithful with rhetoric that alienates other voters. 


Do newspaper endorsements influence outcomes? Specifically, the Manchester Union-Leader?

They have some impact on undecideds who do pay attention. The Manchester Union Leader is neither as conservative nor influential as it once was, however.

Harald Stassen, Henry Cabot Lodge, Pat Buchanan and John McCain all won the NH primary and failed to get the nomination. Eugne McCarthy's almost-win against a write-in candidate (who happened to be an incumbent President) was probabloy more earth-shaking. Who would you regard as the biggest loser this time around?

Very good point. 12 of our last 15 presidential victors won the NH primary. So a win is NH might be considered necessary but insufficient. The loser this time appears to be John Huntsman who hoped to do better than expected.

What struck me as strange about the New Hampshire primary was the continued attacks from Romney's rivals about his tenure at Bain Capital. The Wall Street Journal described the attacks as "charges that in his business career he was a corporate predator, a heartless shredder of companies and jobs and the personification of all that is wrong with capitalism". All of these things are celebrated by the GOP, how in the world can any of Romney's rivals criticize him for this with a straight face? Why do you think the charges didn't have an impact in New Hampshire and will they resonate going forward?

The NH voters know Mitt Romney as a moderate. They have had a chance to observe him for many years not only as a primary candidate but as Governor of Massachusetts. His "born again" conservatism seems, perhaps, less credible to them than his record of moderation. Whether beyond the primary forum these attacks will resonate is quite a fascinating question. The national electorate is very different than the primary voters

As a percentage of the whole US-population, New Hampshire is losing terrain to the West.  Will this impact the importance of its primary in the near future?

As long as it is "first in the nation," NH will enjoy some advantage simply because it kicks off, with Iowa, the presidential election season. Whether it SHOULD have this influence is another question entirely!

The huge sums we waste on this race depress me. Compared to previous races, do you think NH was harsher due to PAC ads?

Not sure if it was harsher but no question but that an awful lot of money is in play. Reformers in the early 20th century hoped the primary system would restore power to the people and diminish business corruption of politics. They didn't anticipate the role of the media or the existence of SUPER PACS!

How do you think the new process for allocating delegates will affect these predictions based on historical outcomes?

Great question. I don't expect this to change outcomes in this race. But the rule changes show the ambivalence in the parties over the primary system. The party leaders want to hang onto their power to determine the outcome while appearing to celebrate the voices of the average voters. 

In terms of social positions, likeability, etc., is a candidate like Romney typical for the winner of New Hampshire?

Yes and no. He is a moderate Republican and one that Republican voters in NH are familiar with and comfortable with. NH has become increasingly Democratic over the past few elections. The voters liked Bill Clinton, for instance. And they voted for Obama in '08. Cultural conservatives have not done as well as late in NH


Where is old Hampshire?

In England!

Does having the primary in New Hampshire help showcase local politicians? I do note the Sununu family has done well in White House appointments. What other New Hampshire politicans have probably benefitted from the extra exposure given to New Hampshire politics?

Excellent question. It does indeed. The young Senator Ayotte has gotten a lot of mileage out of the primary. She came out for Romney and had a chance to showcase her concerns about issues that touch the state directly. Very bullish, for instance, on federal military spending with an eye on the Portsmouth Shipyard. 

So how will Romney's New Hampshire win go down in the history books?

Very solid win. Others have had larger margins to be sure. But McCain, who was well liked in NH, only got about 37%  in 2008. George Bush won with 37% in 1988.

Could winning a state that is generally presumed to be socially liberal, ever be a liability in conservative states? - in the sense that conservatives might say: "If he resonates with that folk, he must be a liberal!" Something like the New York Times endorsing a republican.

Very interesting thought. I wouldn't be surprised if it is a talking point in South Carolina! But I think a candidate only gains by showing strength in different areas of the country. If you can win in the Northeast among a range of Republican voters, and then go off to the South and win there, you demonstrate strength, or so many assume, as a national candidate with the legs to win

Is Romney the first non-incumbant to win both Iowa and New Hampshire? I read that online today...is that right?

Gee, I'm not sure---apologies. 

Thanks for your great questions. We have a very long political season ahead and it will be an endurance test for the public! 

In This Chat
Ellen Fitzpatrick
A scholar specializing in modern American political and intellectual history, Ellen Fitzpatrick is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author and editor of seven books including Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation; History's Memory: Writing America's Past, 1880-1980; America in Modern Times, co-authored with Alan Brinkley; and Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform as well as many articles and reviews. She was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2008-2009. Fitzpatrick, who holds a PhD in History from Brandeis University, has taught previously at Harvard University, M.I.T. and Wellesley College.
Recent Chats
  • Next: