a First Step to the White House
When Bill Clinton lost the 1992 New Hampshire Primary, historical
precedent said his presidential hopes were dashed. No candidate
had ever lost the first primary in the nation and been elected president.
Still, Clinton had shown uncommon resiliency. He had already weathered
the Gennifer Flowers adultery scandal and allegations of dodging
the Vietnam draft. Expected to lose by double digits, Clinton pointed
to his eight-point loss as proof he was the "comeback kid."
As primaries moved to the south, he regained momentum and seized
the nomination in a strong Super Tuesday showing.
The Clinton victory set a new precedent in a changing political
primary environment. In years past, New Hampshire -- as well as
other early states -- had dominated the nominating season. Candidates
used their wins in New Hampshire and Iowa as a springboard to larger
contests, such as California, New York and Super Tuesday. Most importantly,
a win in New Hampshire could spark a new wave of additional money.
In 2000, however, many states have moved their primary dates earlier,
hoping to have more of a say in the nominating process. Republicans,
in particular, have a busy campaign schedule. The Delaware primary
is only seven days after New Hampshire, and the Hawaii caucuses
are also during that week. They are followed by South Carolina (2/19),
Arizona (2/22), Michigan (2/22), Nevada (2/23), North Dakota (2/29),
Virginia (2/29), and Washington (2/29) all in February. Just a week
later, eleven other states -- including California, New York, and
Massachusetts -- hold their primaries on March 7.
Because of this front-loaded schedule, political analysts say candidates
will have to raise the majority of their campaign funds prior to
this year's New Hampshire primary. In other words, the "springboard"
effect from New Hampshire might need to come from pre-election rising
poll numbers, as well as a victory, to generate enough money and
support to go the distance. Nationally, Vice President Al Gore and
Texas Governor George W. Bush easily lead their parties' races.
"If every state holds its present position," wrote the
Concord (NH) Monitor in a June 1999 editorial, "the
primary process will be settled in just five weeks, starting after
Christmas and ending before the sap runs: Iowa in Week One, New
Hampshire in Week Two, California and almost everybody else in Week
The Democrats will also be busy. But after New Hampshire and Delaware,
they have five weeks off, allowing for more fundraising along with
campaigning in the delegate-rich March 7 primary states. Political
scientists are speculating that the typical New Hampshire boost
might be more likely for a Democrat than a Republican, as the Democrat
can use the extra time to prepare for March 7.
"If [Democratic candidate] Bill Bradley can manage to win
in New Hampshire that gives him at least five weeks to consolidate
his advantage," author and scholar William Mayer told the Washington
Post in December. "[Republican] John McCain doesn't have
Although winning the primary has been historically critical to
winning the presidency, several insurgent candidates have done well
in New Hampshire, after indicating weaknesses within their own parties.
In 1996, Patrick Buchanan, former Nixon speech writer turned Reform
Party candidate, beat long-time Kansas Senator Robert Dole by a
percentage point on the Republican side. In 1984, Democratic Colorado
Senator Gary Hart easily defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale.
But for the most part, a win in New Hampshire has signaled a strong
campaign. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan won comfortably
in 1980. Former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter campaigned tirelessly
in 1976 to win by six points. Richard Nixon earned a landslide victory
in the 1972 primary.