The Importance of New Hampshire

Posted: Jan 04, 2012 1:05 PM
"They pick corn in Iowa, and pick presidents here in New Hampshire." - Jon Huntsman

With the Iowa caucuses over, the nation turns its eye on the first official primary state of New Hampshire. The Granite State has seen Mitt Romney with a comfortable lead over the past few weeks, but Romney's had trouble there before.

In 2008, Rudy Giuliani declined to campaign in New Hampshire for fear of wasting money on a state pre-emptively assumed to be safe in the Romney column, as it's in his backyard and has shown a preference for "moderate" Republicanism. This was a colossal mistake - in what may have presaged Romney's inability to galvanize voters, John McCain and his left-for-dead campaign swooped in with a surprising victory on his way to the nomination.

Jon Huntsman hopes to play the McCain role this year. Having skipped Iowa and put all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket, he still faces an uphill battle, as he's consistently been on the outside looking in. Additionally, Ron Paul, off a strong finish in Iowa, hopes that the libertarian streak of the "Live Free or Die" state will help him continue his insurgent candidacy.

On the other hand, Romney's other, more socially-conservative rivals don't want voters to make too much out of the importance of New Hampshire.

Gingrich has said South Carolina is the place he absolutely needs to win... And, it’s hard to to imagine former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum choosing to faceoff against Romney in New Hampshire rather than heading directly to South Carolina and its large evangelical population.

While their expectations will definitely be muted, Santorum and Gingrich have declared that they will compete in New Hampshire. Santorum will be boosted by his strong showing last night, but it's still quite a mountain to climb.

Elsewhere, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein makes the case that it's more important than understood to at least make a cursory showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

[S]kipping New Hampshire is as much of an implausible strategy as skipping Iowa. Neither make any sense. That doesn't mean candidates have to go all-in on these early states, but they really do have to compete there.

The Santorum/Huntsman situation is a good example of that. Santorum may or may not wind up coming close to the nomination, but if he finishes in the top three in Iowa (as currently looks very likely), he's going to get a bump elsewhere. What about Huntsman, however? He's totally off the radar this week. He's been totally off the radar for the last month.

You just can't skip the key early states if you want to have any hope of being the nominee.

We'll see if this is to be the case. Romney might dominate the news cycle for the next week as New Hampshire is in the spotlight and he's the far-and-away frontrunner there. However, if the N.H. primary looks to be uncompetitive, the media might get bored and start to look elsewhere for excitement - which might be South Carolina and Florida.