New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner
Interviewed on the New Hampshire Primary Tradition
National Association of Secretaries of State Winter Meeting
Washington, DC
February 13, 2014

New Hampshire is a place that if you want to have a scripted -- [if] you don't want any unscripted moments -- it's very difficult because people who have been successful in New Hampshire have been the candidates who have come into the state and have said basically, I think that I'd be the best person for president and these are my reasons and ask me anything that you would like to ask me. 

Because in the end, we want the best person possible, and so how do we get there?  We get there...we begin with you [the candidate] making decisions up front, close, in living rooms, in back yards, and go to it.

And if you talk to candidates, and I've relished talking to the candidates afterwards--because only one wins the primary, and we typically have from 40 to 60 other candidates because we range from around 40 to mid-60, that's how many actually get on the ballot; there are others that come in and run as write-ins...  But I ask those that don't win, were you disappointed, did you feel that the process wasn't one that was able to get people to see who you really were or was there something missing?  And the response has been virtually universal over the last several decades.  "No, I had my chance, and don't ever give this up."  Very positive.

And...the person who wins is usually the person that runs a classic type campaign.  Accessible.  Very open.  Allowing people to ask whatever they want.  And when candidates are asked what's the difference, what is the difference between when you're in New Hampshire and when you went to other places it's always about the questions.  The questions are much more personal, much more character related.  That's what they say. 

And I had a candidate once who said-- You know he says I went to New Hampshire, I thought a lot about why I wanted to run for president, did I really want to do this, and I tested myself about it; what did I want to get for the country if I was to be president.  What--  How would it be better, how it would matter to people?  And he said my first weekend up there I was in this living room, and people were sitting on the floor, some on the couch, some standing.  And he said I gave my speech about my vision for America and what I wanted to do as president.  And he said the first question that I was asked was what was the best vacation I had in the last few years?  And he said you know I'm trying to think about that.  He said I didn't think about answering a question like that.

...But you know when you're in someone's living room, and people from the neighborhood, they're not inhibited, they're not in awe of the candidates, and they're very able to ask those kind of questions.  And that's part of the town meeting tradition in New Hampshire when you get up and have to talk about whether you support giving raises to teachers when you have children in school.  It's the purest form of democracy at our local level in those towns with traditional town meetings, so a lot of people in New Hampshire are used to that.  And think about it.  You're in a neighbor's house; you're pretty loose. They're trying to size a person up. 

And that's how you get these unscripted moments.  Because campaign managers that are paid a lot of money to manage these campaigns, they don't want unscripted moments.  They're paid to have the person win, and they're paid to have everything done a certain way, and New Hampshire is not conducive to that. 

And those that come into the state in an imperial way--that's why it's not been easy for U.S. Senators.  They come in at first--and those that have been successful have changed after they've been there a little while--but the tendency is it's an imperial way.  You have staff around you because people in Washington, they're sort of in awe of the political leaders and very deferential to them and so if you come in in an imperial way because that's what you're used to, you--it's to your peril and it always has been.  And those candidates that sense that quickly, that come in one way and change quickly--  It's open yourself up, answer the questions.

Because campaigns, in a democracy, campaigns are an educational experience.  It's learning for the candidates, about the people and what the people are saying about their lives and their concerns.  And its an education for the people because they learn things about their government.  And so the more you have that direct connection, the stronger the fabric of democracy.  And New Hampshire's a place-- you can't do that in metropolitan areas.  You can't; it's difficult.  But that's been the value of the New Hampshire primary tradition.