The Significance of the New Hampshire Primary

The conventional wisdom is that Iowa sends a message but New Hampshire chooses the nominees. While candidates have survived a loss in New Hampshire, nobody has survived a loss in both New Hampshire and Iowa since we’ve had the current pattern. This appears like it will hold for the Democrats, but the Republican race remains in doubt.

Considering the dynamic of this year’s race, I felt that if either Obama or Clinton would win in Iowa they would go on to win the nomination. Besides providing additional momentum, Iowa served as a measure of whether the campaign models of each campaign would be successful. Obama showed that he could bring in new voters in records numbers, which should continue in future states. The record turn out being reported today might indicate that Obama is continuing to pull in more voters. Most likely Obama will win big and be unstoppable, with many Democratic leaders reportedly being on the verge of jumping on the bandwagon. Any other outcome than a clear Obama victory would create some question as to the outcome.

Edwards’ populist policies are unlikely to receive much support in New Hampshire. Should he manage to repeat his second place finish as in Iowa it could eliminate Clinton as a serious candidate. Edwards would then get his desire for a two-way race against Obama, but his chances would not be very good.

The Republican race is less predictable as the Iowa winner is not expected to repeat in New Hampshire. Iowa had a strong evangelical base for Huckabee to propel him to victory, but he does not have this advantage in New Hampshire. While not expected to win, the number of votes he does receive might give some clue as to whether Huckabee can exceed expectations. With South Carolina coming up next, Huckabee is in a good position to regain any lost momentum from his expected failure to win in New Hampshire.

The main race among Republicans is between John McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain is expected to win, but Romney has been advertising heavily and a come back cannot entirely be ruled out. If Romney loses in New Hampshire his chances for winning the nomination will become quite poor. McCain will be the front runner should he have an impressive win in New Hampshire, but he still has considerable opposition from many Republican groups.

One question regarding the Republican race is whether the fiscal conservatives and mainstream Republicans will unite behind a single candidate to try to stop Huckabee. In a divided race Huckabee can go all the way, but there is no clear consensus candidate to oppose him. The big question of out New Hampshire is whether McCain can unite the fiscal conservatives behind him with a victory.

McCain is not only fighting against the other Republicans but is fighting against Obama for independent voters who supported him in 2000. Obama’s success this year might reduce McCain’s vote among independents, and perhaps even cost him a clear victory.

New Hampshire might be Ron Paul’s last chance to receive any meaningful attention. With a libertarian tradition, Paul could conceivably pull in more voters in New Hampshire than in the states to follow, but he might also suffer from Obama’s support among independents. Most likely New Hampshire will provide further evidence that Paul’s on line support does not translate to a meaningful number of votes in the real world.

Giuliani and Thompson don’t appear to be significant players in New Hampshire, raising questions as to whether they can survive by waiting for later states. They might be able to pick up some momentum by exceeding expectations even with a respectable third place finish. An upset second place finish might turn out to be almost as valuable as a victory, similar to Bill Clinton’s second place finish in 1992.

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