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Let’s Not Get Crazy - It’s Only New Hampshire

The above headline is not a knock on the Granite State. Rather it is an editorial on the value of a primary victory there. Just ask President Tsongas.

Simply put, winning New Hampshire is not a guarantee of securing the nomination. Reviewing the last half century of primary results, there have been 16 contested races (8 in each party) where an incumbent president was not on the ballot. On the Democratic side the primary winner did not go on to take the nomination on four of the eight occasions (Muskie-1972; Hart-1984; Tsongas-1992; Hillary Clinton-2008). For the GOP, there were three disparate results (Lodge-1964; Buchanan-1996; McCain-2000).

That means the New Hampshire primary winner has a rather large chance (44%) of not being nominated. Indeed in all seven of the primaries noted above, the runner-up became his party’s standard bearer (Goldwater-1964; McGovern-1972; Mondale-1984; B. Clinton-1992; Dole-1996; G.W. Bush-2000; Obama-2008).

Having said that, there is no history of a candidate actively seeking to “win” the second place position and yes the odds favor the actual winners…just not by that much.

If you want to look for historical precedents, you have to go back that half century on the Republican side, where the outsider candidate, Henry Cabot Lodge (so outside he was out of the country at the time as Ambassador to South Vietnam and his supporters waged a shoe string write-in campaign) took 36% of the vote, a mark of the state’s contrary streak. The runners up were Barry Goldwater (22%), Nelson Rockefeller (22%, a fraction behind Goldwater) and another write-in, Richard Nixon (17%). The race was less populated with candidates than in 2016, but the percentages are suggestive of the numbers. Goldwater overcame his defeat on the strength of support when the contest shifted south and west. Thus the critical query today: is Trump best positioned in the Sunbelt?

As to Bernie and Hillary, look back to 1968, the last time there was a Democratic ideologue (George McGovern) running against an establishment candidate (Ed Muskie) in a largely two-person race. McGovern’s strong second-place showing in New Hampshire catapulted him forward in all states where the party faithful had strong reform factions. Arguably bad news for Ms. Clinton.

Of course she, and all the losing candidates, can console themselves that there are many ways of spinning the New Hampshire results. As John Maynard Keynes said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

The writer is a former Republican nominee for the assembly in New York and is the author of the upcoming historical novel, The Nation’s Hope, about the 1965 NYC mayoral contest. You can follow him at

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