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The New Hampshire Primary -- Hitting the Snooze Bar Over and Over

20 Dec 2011
Posted by Andrew Samwick

With less than a month to go until the New Hampshire primary, my usually hot seat as the director of a public policy center at a college in New Hampshire is, in fact, ice cold.  There is literally no sign of the candidates, nor has there been for most of the year.  It is like the year without a primary.  (This is in marked contrast to how I spent 2007, and this day in particular.) 

The way I would summarize this is to say that there has been no aggressive retail campaigning.  Other than the debate in October, we have had minimal outreach from the candidates who have been invited to these debates.  The key reasons, in no particular order, seem to be:

1. The debate schedule

There have been an enormous number of so-called debates this primary season.  They have served primarily to divide the group into those candidates who say essentially nothing and those who will say just about anything.  However you characterize these media events, there is little denying how unproductive they have been in helping a voting public make better choices.  And more importantly, the packed schedule is keeping the candidates from focusing on retail politics in New Hampshire, like they normally do.

2. My location

In 2007, we had a wide open contest in both parties.  But most importantly, we had a vigorous contest on the Democratic side, and the part of the state where Dartmouth is located tends to favor the Democrats.  I am not surprised that we would see a dropoff in candidate visits, and maybe things are raging down by the Massachusetts border and in the North Country.  But I would not expect candidate visits to dry up completely.  I was not aware that any candidate had such a comfortable lead that this contest was over and not worth expending resources to campaign.  Yes, Romney leads in the polls, but that's what retail campaigning in a small state is supposed to affect -- whether he can hold that lead.

3. This group of candidates

In 2007, John McCain was in the area all the time.  Even in 2007, we never hosted a visit to campus by Mitt Romney.  We saw the Mitt-mobile parked around the Green occasionally, but that was typically one of his sons or campaign staff.  He may have done something at the Medical Center down the road.  Fast forward 4 years, and they are all like Romney and none like McCain, which is to say, they are all invisible campaigners.

4. Raising and spending money

It is surprising how little role that money is playing in this contest.  The top candidates are not spending money on large media buys.  Television advertising has not been overwhelmed by political ads.  An unmet need to raise money has not been a reason for candidates to drop out of the race and focus the remaining candidates on distinguishing themselves from each other.  More generally, we are in the low-fundraising, low-spending equilibrium in which candidates are responding to weak campaign efforts by their opponents by conserving their own resources, including their time and travel.  That won't continue to be the case later in the primary season, but it is certainly the case now.

These are my top four reasons -- please share any others that you think are important in the comments.  For similar ideas, read this article in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor.


Are We Really Pretending there's a contest going on?

I'm trying to find a viable Republican candidate other than Romney. The reasonable choices--Joe Lieberman, Barack Obama--are otherwise engaged.

The other "candidates" included two book dealers--the unlamented Herman Cain and the still-shilling Newt Gingrich (whose "national" organization appears to have overlooked a key "purple" state)--this generation's Harold Stassen (Ron "I'm Not a Racist, I just publish newsletters I don't read and give speeches at the John Birch Society" Paul), and Governor Goodhair.

It's difficult to get New Hampshire voters excited about a man who cannot count to three.

There are others running, but they make The Seven Dwarves of legend (1988, not 1937) seem substantial, even if they do include their own Huntsman.

The comparative isn't 2008--it's 2004. One candidate to rule them all, one candidate to find them, one candidate to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

I believe this is the reason;

I believe this is the reason; there are only a handful of candidates who actually have even a slim possibility of winning the nomination, Romney, Gingrich, Perry and maybe Paul. Out of that group, Gingrich doesn't actually have a campaign apparatus, that's why he's not going to win Iowa. He has basically no staff and very little money and he's unwiling to spend his own like Romney is (of course he's also not as wealthy.) Perry has dropped radically in the polls, so any outside chance he has is by focusing on the South where he and his evangelical roots are strongest. He probably couldn't win New Hampshire no matter how hard he tried. Then there's Paul who does have a grass roots campaign in New Hampshire, but is right now focusing everything on winning Iowa - my guess is that if he wins Iowa he'll live in New Hampshire for the three weeks afterward.

This is the same reason why Romney still is the odds on favorite to win the whole thing. He's polling good enough, he has experienced campaign staff in every major state and media market, he has oodles of money, the non-tea party wing of the party wants him to win, and although they are less vocal than the tea party, they have more money and more access to the Media, and unlike Gingrich and Bachmann, he actually wants to be President, not just increase his speaker fees and profile.

Lawn signs are way down, too

Andrew - I've been commenting to my family how little interest there is in this primary. We're up in Woodsville, which is prime Republican country. I count 3 lawn signs at this point (2 Huntsman, 1 Romney). Honestly, there are more lawn signs for Governor's Council seats that I'm seeing right now. My guess is that people just aren't thinking about elections at Christmas time.

The race to be "first", leading to such an early date for the primary, has finally killed it. I honestly wish they'd blow up the whole system and have the primary voting in March, April & May. And I don't care if NH is "first".

I'm in Mass. and I don't even

I'm in Mass. and I don't even know when the primary is. Of course, we hardly have any Republicans here. I'm independent, and we have open primaries, so I could go vote if I wanted to. I'm tempted to go vote for Paul or Huntsman, because it would piss off the "establishment" if they did well. Sure, Paul is kinda nuts--I mean, some candidates talk like they want to roll back the clock to 1890, Paul talks like he thinks it still is 1890--and just not intellectually equipped for the challenges we face (but none of the Republicans are). It's easy not to feel too excited by the upcoming election, or even be quite depressed about it. A choice between the guy who went back on nearly every campaign pledge and has been complicit in selling us out to corrupt oligarchs, and somebody from Team Do-Nothing. I mean, why should I vote for Mitt Romney when we basically already have him in the White House?

Romney's lead is probably a

Romney's lead is probably a big factor, too. It's one thing to go up a candidate with a 10 point lead; it's another to take on a state resident with a 25 point lead.

And similar to one of the reasons you list, throw in the fact that these candidates are mostly social conservatives, and it makes more sense to spend time in Iowa than in NH.

Why Huntsman isn't barnstorming the liberal areas of the state, I don't know.

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