New Hampshire voters could make Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s nomination a near-certainty on Tuesday, when the state holds the first primary of the 2012 election.
Every presidential candidate in modern history who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire has gone on to win the party’s nomination. (Romney narrowly won the Iowa caucuses last week). Since 1920, New Hampshire has been the first state to hold a presidential primary, and Granite State voters guard that status fiercely.
The state’s primary has become the birthplace, and sometimes graveyard, for presidential hopefuls, a phenomenon often dubbed the “New Hampshire effect.”
In 1996, many Republicans blamed Pat Buchanan for dividing the party when he won the New Hampshire primary. That year, Bob Dole was the establishment candidate; yet Buchanan mounted an insurgent campaign to take the victory there.
Buchanan tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that he attributes the unexpected win to an endorsement from the New Hampshire Union-Leader newspaper, and what he calls a “Catholic conservative, traditionalist, economic populist message,” that fit the times.
Insurgent candidates are often successful in New Hampshire, Buchanan says, because the people there are receptive to candidates who challenge an establishment. Buchanan says he was the non-establishment candidate.
“New Hampshire has a great disposition, a great willingness, to unhorse the mighty,” Buchanan says. “I think that’s one of the things that election was all about.”
New Hampshire’s role in determining the GOP’s nominee in the 2012 election will be important, Buchanan says. If Romney wins New Hampshire, Buchanan says the former Massachusetts governor has the legs to go the distance and become the Republican presidential nominee.
But if that happens, and Romney is the GOP nominee, Buchanan says it will be a real test of his capacity as a diplomat and a politician.
“The Republican Party is a divided party in many ways,” he says. “Mitt and his people will have to go down and unite this party around the proposition that all of us may disagree on some issues, but we all agree on the proposition that the country can’t take four more years of Barack Obama.”
Buchanan disagrees with the criticism that it isn’t fair the 42nd most populous state in the U.S. has such a large hand in deciding such an important issue.
“The fact that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are the first three is a good thing; it is a healthy thing,” Buchanan says. “Because it does winnow the field and you do see if some of these front-runners really do have a glass jaw and they can’t go the distance.”
Although he eventually lost the nomination to Dole, Buchanan, author of Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?, says he’s in favor of maintaining New Hampshire as the first primary in the nation.
The Senator From Colorado
A month ago, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was hardly considered competition in the Republican primaries. But when he nearly defeated front-runner Romney in the Iowa caucuses last week, everything changed. The case of a presidential hopeful pulling ahead after Iowa isn’t a first. In fact, something similar happened in 1984.
Just before the Iowa caucuses that year, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado wasn’t getting much love from the media or the Democratic Party establishment. But after he made a strong showing in the state, the cameras started to follow him.
Just a month or so before the New Hampshire primary of 1984, Hart was polling 2 percent nationally and 5 percent in New Hampshire, far behind the presumed front-runner, Walter Mondale.
Hart took advantage of New Hampshire’s tradition of bucking trends and going for insurgents, so he started campaigning on that theme. It worked; Hart won the primary by 10 percentage points.
Hart, now a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, tells NPR’s Raz that at the time there was a sense, particularly from younger Democrats, that the party had begin to stagnate.
“I felt that there was a generational opportunity there,” Hart says. “And I felt that if I could get to New Hampshire that I had a very good chance of demonstrating that there was a base … for a new generation of leadership.”
The strong Iowa showing, the increased media attention and the strong victory in New Hampshire helped Hart carry 25 states in the primaries and go to the 1984 Democratic National Convention with 1,200 delegates. It wasn’t enough, however, and Mondale became the Democratic nominee for president, ultimately losing to the incumbent, President Reagan.
Looking back, Hart says the 1984 race and his contribution was a defining moment for many, including him.
“It is one of those events that almost never reoccur in your lifetime, and you treasure it and you treasure the relationships that shared that experience with you,” he says. “It was very hard work, but we had a lot of fun.”