GovernorJohn Lynch (D)
SenatorsJudd Gregg (R)
Jeanne Shaheen (D)
RepresentativesRep. Carol Shea-Porter (D)
Rep. Paul Hodes (D)
Districts1st District (Shea-Porter)
2nd District (Hodes)
To be precise, New Hampshire has just 43 one-hundredths of 1% of the nation’s population. Yet every four years, it is the epicenter of the political universe, the place where the contest for the American presidency is temporarily based, where every vote is avidly sought and where members of the national political press vie for access to candidates and for tables at the latest cycle’s most fashionable bars and restaurants. New Hampshire has had impact far beyond its miniature size: It gave a huge boost to Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s candidacy in 1952, it prompted the retirement of Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1968, it launched Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976, then Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and then Republican George H.W. Bush in 1988. The lever with which this small state has sometimes moved the political world is its first-in-the-nation presidential primary, given that status by Democratic rules writers in the 1970s and exploited by Republicans in the 1980s. Its disproportionate weight in presidential elections is even more impressive considering that its public policies are atypical of the nation and its political terrain is unusual if not eccentric. This is one of the few states that over the past half-century have had more registered Republicans than Democrats, and it was for many years the state with the most antipathy to taxes. Yet in the last dozen years, New Hampshire’s ability to pick winners and losers has waned. The last three presidents have finished second in the New Hampshire primary. It gave conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan a surprising 37% of the vote in 1992 and a 27% victory in 1996, but he never did as well elsewhere and wound up leaving the Republican Party in 1999. It gave Republican John McCain a thumping victory over George W. Bush in 2000, but that proved to be a harbinger for the Northeast and not the rest of the country. It gave Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton a surprise victory in 2008. New Hampshire played a key role in nominating Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, but both lost the general election. However, the big increase in turnout in the 2004 Democratic primary proved prescient, as New Hampshire has moved sharply toward the Democrats. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat elected narrowly in 2004, was re-elected by wide margins in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won a solid 54%-45% victory in a state that had voted 58%, 69% and 62% for Republican presidents in the 1980s, and Jeanne Shaheen became the first Democrat elected U.S. senator from New Hampshire since 1974.
New Hampshire has always been distinct. In a country that prides itself on its feistiness and freedom from outside direction, it has always been even feistier and more lightly fettered by authority. Before the Revolutionary War, New Hampshire was almost an outlaw colony, its great fortunes made by poachers in the king’s forests and by smugglers avoiding taxes. It was the first colony with an independent government and was fighting the British before the Minutemen stood at Lexington and Concord. In this environment, 19th century entrepreneurs built textile mills along fast-flowing rivers. The Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, lining the Merrimack River for a mile, were once the largest cotton mills in the world, employing 17,000 people and producing enough cloth every two months to put a band around the world. Around the mills grew a city of red brick dormitories and three-family frame houses filled with immigrants from Canada, Ireland, Poland and Greece, set down amid villages of dirt roads and flinty Yankee farmers and mechanics. New Hampshire held to its traditions of local government and little external control, and for years its refusal to join most other states in enacting an income or sales tax, or to provide statewide guidance of schools and social services, seemed to doom it to continued backwardness.
Instead, low taxes proved to be New Hampshire’s fortune. From the 1960s to the 1990s, New Hampshire had the fastest growth in the Northeast, attracting businesses from Massachusetts and other high-tax states. It became a location of choice for entrepreneurs and high-tech innovators, attracting an increasing number of people skeptical of government programs. From 1965 to 2000, Massachusetts grew from 5.5 million to 6.3 million, up 15%, while New Hampshire grew from 676,000 to 1.2 million, up 83%. The bedraggled New Hampshire of 50 years ago, of poor Yankee farmers and French Canadian mill hands, has largely disappeared, and in its place is one of the nation’s most prosperous economic communities. The low taxes that spurred New Hampshire’s growth would probably have been raised in the late 1960s or early 1970s, as they were in so many states at the time but for the far from gentle advocacy of Manchester’s Union Leader newspaper and its owner, William Loeb. The Union Leader insisted that governors and legislators “take the pledge” to vote for no sales or income tax and, from 1970 to 1998, almost all did. The two who didn’t were defeated. The result was that education and welfare remained local responsibilities. At the same time, New Hampshire boasted the highest SAT scores in the country and had the brainpower to participate fully in New England’s high-tech boom. The old Amoskeag Mills were converted to offices, and once-grimy Manchester is now a high-tech center. Fidelity Investment, BAE Systems, Liberty Mutual and Timberland are big employers, and New Hampshire has one of the nation’s highest growth rates in information-technology jobs.
This “Nouvelle Hampshire,” as Washington Post writer Henry Allen dubbed it, has none of the architectural purity of Amoskeag. Its shopping centers and new subdivisions have a slapdash, half-built look, as if there were no time for details in the hurry to build. But it is also a state that claims to have the highest proportion of high-tech jobs and the highest percentage of citizens with Internet access. It also is a big center for financial services, with giant mutual-fund campuses. New Hampshire has not been without its problems. The booming state priced itself out of the growth market. Its giddily high real estate prices in the late 1980s kept out the new workers its businesses needed to continue expanding. The recession of the early 1990s was harsher here than anywhere else. Thousands of jobs disappeared; real estate prices crashed so that ordinary people lost not only short-term income but also long-term wealth. By the mid-1990s, growth had returned, and during the national recession of 2001-02, New Hampshire’s unemployment stayed low, real estate prices were rising and incomes ranked seventh in the nation. However, the state also has virtually no racial minorities; its population is 1% black, 2.4% Hispanic and 2% Asian. There has been less migration to the state in recent years, perhaps because Massachusetts and other states have lowered their taxes. The biggest in-migration since 2000 has been around Concord and the Lake Country, not along the Massachusetts border.
This helps to explain the state’s political gyrations over the last dozen years. In 1992, in-migration had stopped, and New Hampshire was reacting angrily to recession and rapidly declining house prices. In that year’s presidential contest, it held Republican George H.W. Bush to an unimpressive 53%-37% win over Buchanan, then voted for Democrat Bill Clinton over Bush in November. This turned out not to be a fluke. Like most states dominated by big metropolitan areas (most of New Hampshire gets Boston television), New Hampshire moved toward the Democrats in the 1990s, reassured by economic growth and comfortable with the Democrats’ liberal stands on cultural issues. In 1996, New Hampshire voted 49%-39% for Clinton and elected Democrat Shaheen as governor, and Republican Sen. Bob Smith came so close to losing that he was proclaimed the loser by the networks on Election Night.
Then New Hampshire’s tax regime came under attack. The state Supreme Court in December 1997 ruled the state’s school-financing system unconstitutional because it left some districts with less taxable resources than others (at that time, the state provided only 10% of funding, far less than in the 49 other states) and gave the state an April 1999 deadline to come up with a new system. The result was a statewide property tax—not anybody’s first choice, but it was what the Democratic governor and Senate and the Republican House could agree on. There were also increases in business, cigarette and property-sales taxes and a new tax on rental cars. By 2008, the state was providing nearly 39% of school funding. In 2002, Republican Clark Benson was elected governor over a Democrat who favored the new taxes. Two years later, Democrat Lynch took the anti-tax pledge and won the gubernatorial contest 51%-49%. Lynch kept his pledge even after the state Supreme Court once again rejected the Legislature’s school-funding plan in September 2006. That November, Democrats won a smashing, across-the-board victory, and despite losing some seats in the state House in 2008, they continue to hold majorities in the state House and Senate and on the five-member Executive Council. Lynch continues to oppose a broad-based tax, and the Legislature has moved on to other matters, including voting to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
Since 1920, New Hampshire has held the first-in-the-nation primary, and since 1952, when candidates’ names were first put on the ballot, it has had extraordinary influence on the presidential selection process—a fact that will surely strike 23rd century historians as bizarre. To be sure, there are arguments for having early contests in small states that provide a venue for “retail politics,” in which candidates meet voters in person, listen to them, exchange ideas and allow citizens to gauge their character. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire is small enough physically that candidates can efficiently meet voters. Everything except the lightly populated North Country is within an hour’s drive of Manchester, and for all the state’s abstract dislike of government, New Hampshire does an excellent job of keeping its roads clear of snow. New Hampshire’s retail politics offers little-known candidates the ability to propel themselves into the national spotlight, though over the last 25 years none of those candidates has gone on to win his party’s nomination. The last to do so were Democrats George McGovern and Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.
In any case, New Hampshire retains its first-in-the-nation status not on the merits but because it has insisted on having its way. In the 1970s, Democrats tried to confine primaries to a “window” period in which New Hampshire would have competition. But New Hampshire, with its outlaw tradition, insisted it would hold its primary before the window if necessary, confident that candidates and reporters would pay it heed even if its tiny delegation was not seated at the national convention as punishment. Republicans made no such rules, but in 1996, let Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill, both Republicans, threaten voter retaliation against candidates who took part in caucuses or primaries held before those in their states or even during the week after their states’ events. Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen continued the tradition in December 1998, demanding that candidates take a pledge not to participate in earlier contests. In 2000, the Democrats imposed a five-week window of no contests after New Hampshire, which made Democrat Al Gore’s 50%-46% victory here decisive. Bill Bradley’s candidacy effectively died of inattention before he could reach Super Tuesday. Fortunately for Republican George W. Bush, the laissez-faire Republicans did not restrict other states as much as the Democrats, and he could recover from his loss in New Hampshire 19 days later in South Carolina. John McCain’s smashing 49%-30% victory in the GOP primary knocked the wind out of the Bush campaign for only about a week.
In 2003, the Michigan Democratic Party, led by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, attempted to challenge New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status by moving the 2004 Michigan Democratic caucuses to the same January date as New Hampshire’s primary. After a noisy debate, Michigan backed down. But Levin got the national party to promise to convene another commission in 2005 to study the nomination process.
New Hampshire is still one of the few states with more registered Republicans than Democrats, but it effectively chose, or ratified, Iowa caucus-goers’ choice of Democratic nominee in both 2000 and 2004. Once upon a time, New Hampshire’s registered Democrats were mill workers in Manchester and other factory towns, ethnics who rejected the Yankee Republican consensus of the state. Those days are long gone. Democratic turnout is not concentrated in the two largest cities, Manchester and Nashua, which often vote Republican, but in the state capital of Concord and clusters of towns around universities—the area around Durham (the University of New Hampshire) and Dover in southeast New Hampshire, the area around Keene (Keene State College) in the southwest and the area around Hanover (Dartmouth College). The typical Democratic primary voter here now is more likely to be an assistant professor. In 2000, the upscale character of the electorate was already clear. Gore, with strong support from labor unions, had won a wide victory in Iowa. But in New Hampshire, he was fortunate to squeeze out a 50%-46% victory against Bradley, who ran to his right on some economic issues and to his left on cultural issues.
In the 2004 cycle, New Hampshire was the first venue in which Democrat Howard Dean raced to a lead, far ahead of New Hampshire’s Massachusetts neighbor John Kerry. Some voters in the western part of the state were perhaps familiar with Dean’s somewhat moderate record as governor of Vermont. But his real appeal—what kept volunteers buzzing at their computers in his crowded Manchester headquarters and his poll numbers above 50% in a multicandidate field—came from his vitriolic denunciations of President Bush, especially on the war in Iraq. About half of Dean’s support evaporated after his third-place showing in Iowa and his infamous election night rant. But he had already set the tone of the campaign and stirred the enthusiasm of New Hampshire Democrats. Turnout was up 42%. Kerry argued, as he had in Iowa, that he was the Democrat best able to defeat Bush. New Hampshire gave him 38% of its votes, to 26% for Dean, 12.4% for Wesley Clark, who had skipped Iowa, 12% for John Edwards, who had done much better in Iowa, and 9% for Joe Lieberman, who had also skipped Iowa. In retrospect, New Hampshire nailed the nomination for Kerry: Lieberman soon dropped out, as did Dean. Clark was never able to make himself Kerry’s chief rival, and although Edwards did, he never overtook Kerry.
In the 2008 election season, Michigan scheduled its primary on January 15 in an attempt to outflank New Hampshire, but in August 2007, the Democratic National Committee commanded the Democratic candidates not to campaign there. In November, after the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the state’s January date, New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner announced that his state’s primary would be held on January 8, five days after the Iowa caucuses, restoring New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation place.
Campaigning proceeded through most of 2007, and for the first time, with both nominations contested, turnout was higher in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary. Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had led in polls most of the year, began to trail Barack Obama after Obama’s win in the Iowa caucuses. But shortly before the primary, at a coffeehouse in Portsmouth, Clinton was asked how she was withstanding the rigors of campaigning, and in response, she seemed to tear up as she talked about how she felt so strongly the country needed to change. This was the one primary in 2008 in which the result differed from the late polls. Clinton edged Obama 39%-36%; John Edwards got just 17%, Bill Richardson 5%. Turnout was 289,000 people, up 30% from 2004 and nearly double that of 2000. Clinton carried Manchester, the southeast and the North Country. She won among women and downscale voters, much as Gore had in 2000. Obama carried Concord and towns in the west, and won among upscale and well-educated voters, much as Bradley had eight years earlier. Clinton’s victory ended the possibility that Obama might wrap up the nomination early.
Turnout on the Republican side was 239,000, almost identical to that in 2000. And the winner was again McCain, who had prevailed in 2000. He edged Mitt Romney 37%-32%; 11% went for Mike Huckabee and 8% for Rudy Giuliani, who had essentially abandoned serious efforts in the state in November. McCain carried western and northern New Hampshire. Romney carried the southeastern corner of the state, where he was well known from his four years as governor of Massachusetts. That left Romney, who had been considered by many the front-runner and the best-financed Republican, without a victory in either Iowa or New Hampshire. It injected life into the McCain candidacy, which had nearly collapsed just six months before.
Up through 1992, political reporters left New Hampshire the day after the primary and never returned for the general election in the fall. It was assumed that the state would go Republican. But Clinton carried New Hampshire twice, and in 2000, the general election contest was close again. Gore unaccountably visited the state just once, yet Bush still carried it by only 48%-47%, with a popular-vote margin of 7,211. In 2004, New Hampshire was a target state for both campaigns, and the enthusiasm evoked by the Dean campaign and transferred to Kerry in New Hampshire seemed to carry over into the fall. This was the only Bush 2000 state that went for Kerry. Again the vote was close, 50%-49%, with a popular-vote margin of 9,274—without which it would not have mattered whether Bush carried Ohio.
In 2008, New Hampshire was again a target state, but the Democratic tide was rising at a considerable clip. One clue: McCain had won more votes in the 2000 primary than in the 2008 primary. Another indication was that the Obama campaign had 100 organizers in the state, far more than the Republicans. Obama won by a solid 54%-45%. He got 61% of the votes from women and voters under 30. Interestingly, McCain ran even among Catholics and ahead among Protestants, but those who characterized their religion as “other” or “none,” who accounted for 23% of the electorate, voted 76% for Obama.
|111th Congress: 2 D|
With only slight changes, New Hampshire’s two congressional districts basically have had the same boundaries since 1881, neatly separating the Merrimack River mill towns of Manchester and Nashua, the state’s largest cities. That was done originally to split the Catholic Democratic vote, but now both cities are high-tech towns. For years, that split helped Republicans hold both districts; now it helps Democrats.