"Granite Staters are tough but fair with those who would be President.  Toward the end of the race, when the temperature gets colder and the campaigning gets hotter, it takes dedication to survive.  Here is democracy at its best, for it takes more than a big bankroll or name recognition to impress us." --Nackey Loeb


State of New Hampshire Revised Statutes, TITLE LXIII, Chapter 653 +

653:9 Presidential Primary Election. – The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a Tuesday selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous...

The premise and the promise of New Hampshire's first in the nation primary is that it allows even little-known, underfunded candidates to have a chance at winning the White House.  By engaging in grassroots politics, visiting ordinary citizens in their living rooms and meeting them in diners, a candidate can gain favorable notice, attract support of activists, do well in the primary, and thereby gain momentum going into the rest of the nominating process.  Secretary of State Bill Gardner points out that not only do New Hampshire citizens have great opportunities to learn about the candidates, but the candidates themselves learn a lot by going through the process (+).  Critics argue that New Hampshire is not representative and should not be granted a privileged position, but the state has repeatedly fended off challenges to its first-in-the-nation status.

New Hampshire has a strong grassroots democratic tradition.  The General Court, New Hampshire's "citizen legislature," consists of the 400-member House and 24-member Senate.  The House is the largest state legislative body in the United States.  (Legislators receive a salary of $200 per biennium).  Many citizens also serve in local government or at least have the experience of participating in the local town hall meetings.

Over the decades, the New Hampshire primary has produced many memorable scenes, and each succeeding primary reinforces the proud tradition.  The primary and all the comings and goings also provide a tremendous economic boost to the state.

Dynamics of the Races

The large Republican field means the Granite State is seeing much more Republican than Democratic traffic.  For example, in August 2015, 15 Republicans made 32 visits totalling 54 days, while five Democrats made nine visits totaling 13 days.  (The difference would have been even greater had the Democrats' numbers not been inflated by former Gov. Lincoln Chafee's intense New Hampshire focus).

The cast of characters was quite different in New Hampshire than in Iowa.  As the first primary state, New Hampshire attracts more candidates.

On the Republican side, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Gov. George Pataki, and former Gov. Jim Gilmore went "all in" in New Hampshire, while former Gov. Mike Huckabee, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum were largely absent.

On the Democratic side, former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton had the biggest campaign organization while Sen. Bernie Sanders competed vigorously.  Although he started later here than in Iowa, he may benefit because he hails from neighboring Vermont.  Former Gov. Martin O'Malley tried to gain traction, but withdrew following the Feb. 1, 2016 Iowa cacuces.  Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee made a total of 32 visits, all trips in and out on the same day, before ending his bid on Oct. 23, 2015.

Early Groundwork (Pre-Campaign Period, 2013-14)

Potential Republican and Democratic presidential candidates made over 60 trips to the Granite State during the 2013-14 cycle.  In addition to helping local party committees and candidates, they used these visits to connect with activists and potential supporters.  The first visit of the 2016 cycle came on May 10, 2013 from Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA). 

New Hampshire is fairly evenly split politically (registration as of Nov. 4, 2014 was 239,692 Democrats, 272,300 Republicans, and 384,837 Undeclared for a total of 896,829).  High-profile contests included the U.S. Senate race and both U.S. House races.  A total of 495,453 votes were counted in the Nov. 4 general election.

• Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) defeated Walt Havenstein (R) by 52.4% to 47.4% to win a second term..

• U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) defeatedt former Mass. U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R) by 51.5% to 48.2%.

• Both U.S. House seats were competitive.  In the 1st CD, which includes Manchester, former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta (R) won a rematch with U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter by 51.7% to 48.1%.  In the 2nd CD, which includes Nashua, Concord and the whole western and northern part of the state, U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D) defeated state Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R) by 55.0% to 45.0%. 

• In the state Senate all 24 seats were up.  Republicans gained seats taking the balance from 12 Republicans, 11 Democrats and 1 vacancy to 14 Republicans, 10 Democrats (+).

• Republicans gained control in the House of Representatives, where all 400 seats were up.  The balance shifted from 212 Democrats, 172 Republicans and 16 vacancies to 239 Republicans, 169 Democrats and 1 other (+).

Potential presidential candidates helped out in these races as well as with party events.  There was more than twice as much activity by potential Republican candidates because of the larger pool of prospects.  The most frequent potential candidate to visit was U.S. Rep. Peter King, who made a total of eight visits in 2013-14, but whose interest seemed to wane in the latter half of 2014.  Gov. Christie, came in next with five visits followed by Sens. Paul and Cruz and Gov. Jindal at four.  There were a few early talent signings.  In July 2014 Sen. Rand Paul's RAND PAC announced Mike Biundo as New England chief strategist, and veteran operative Mike Dennehy advised Gov. Rick Perry.  On the Democratic side, Gov. Martin O'Malley's O'PAC paid for staff to help out Democrats in the early states, including New Hampshire.  Also of note, the independent Ready for Hillary super PAC started its organizing in the state with meetings on Jan. 7, 2014, announced NH operative Sean Downey as its Northeast regional organizing director in April, and had volunteers signing up supporters at fairs, parades, festivals and fundraisers.

Drama Over the Date

New Hampshire's first status is enshrined in state law, and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has demonstrated time and again he will not budge when it comes to protecting the first status, including the seven-day cushion.  In the last cycle Gardner even threatened to hold the primary in December 2011.  (In an Oct, 12, 2011 statement, Gardner wrote that, "The dates of Tuesday, December 13th, and Tuesday, December 6th are realistic options, and we have logistics in place to make either date happen if needed.")  Not until Nov. 2, 2011 did Gardner announce the date of the primary as Jan. 10, 2012.  In 2007 Gardner's announcement came even later; on Nov. 21, 2007 he announced the date as Jan. 8, 2008 (+).  While DNC rules specify Feb. 9, 2016 as the date of the New Hampshire primary, state law trumps party rules.  Based on past history there was a fair chance that the primary would not occur on February 9.  However, the national party committees showed a determination to hold the line this cycle.  There was little drama; no states threatened New Hampshire's position, and Gardner attracted little notice on Dec. 17, 2015 when he made the Feb. 9, 2016 date official.

Changes in the Media Environment

Presidential hopefuls will encounter media environment that has changed from recent cycles.  Most notably, Bill Binnie, who sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010, has revamped WBIN-TV.  Binnie Media's NH1 News launched on Sept. 15, 2014.  Based in Concord, NH1 encompasses television and radio, and has a staff of more than one hundred, including such talent as veteran statehouse reporter Kevin Landrigan, formerly of the Nashua Telegraph, and Paul Steinhauser of CNN (+).  Binnie's venture could generate a bit of competition with WMUR-TV, which has dominated the New Hampshire market at least since the 1990s.  Veteran political reporter John DiStaso, who worked at the Union Leader for 34 years and wrote the "Granite Status" column, moved to New Hampshire Journal in March 2014, where he wrote "Granite Reports" for a year; he is joining WMUR's politics team effective April 6, 2015.  Additionally, James Pindell moved from WMUR-TV to the Boston Globe following the 2014 midterms.

The Campaign Heats Up

With 10 counties and a population of 1.3 million, New Hampshire is a bit easier to travel around in than Iowa, although getting up to Coos County in the far north requires a bit of a trek.  As in Iowa, candidates must put in time speaking to groups in living rooms and small businesses around the state.  Their campaigns work to build a team of committed county chairs and precinct captains and obtain endorsements from state and local officials.  Campaign headquarters open in Concord or Manchester.  The ad campaign gears up.  Debates provide an opportunity for the candidates' supporters to engage in sign wars. 

Some candidates may choose to focus on the New Hampshire primary over the Iowa caucuses, viewing it as providing a "level playing field" which does not require as much resources as Iowa or the greater attention to social issues there.  In the 2011-12 campaign, for example, four campaigns staked their survival on achieving a strong showing in the primary.  Former Gov. Buddy Roemer took up residence in an apartment in Manchester; long shot Fred Karger leased a house in Manchester; former Gov. Gary Johnson's campaign set out "The New Hampshire Path," and former Gov. Jon Huntsman moved his headquarters to New Hampshire. 

In the fall the leaves turn, and the candidates continue to visit.  Adding further color to the race are lesser known candidates, for it is relatively easy to get on the New Hampshire presidential primary ballot.  On Sept. 30, 2015 Secretary of State Gardner  set the filing period for the presidential primary for Nov. 4-Nov. 20, 2015.  Most of the major candidates make the visit to the Secretary of State's office in the Capitol, where surrounded by reporters, they sit at the historic maple desk from 1819 and put their name to paper.  In both 2007 (>) and 2011 (>) a total of 44 candidates filed to appear on the ballot as presidential candidates.  

In the winter the snow falls, and still the candidates continue their visits.  After the Caucus Night celebrations in Iowa, the remaining candidates head immediately to New Hampshire for a final week of campaigning.  Elm Street in Manchester becomes a bit of a zoo, crowded with supporters of the candidates, representatives of various interest groups trying to get their messages out, and media. 

Independents Form an Important Voting Bloc

Undeclared voters can vote in either party's primary.  The procedure is simple.  Upon entering the polling place, a voter declares for one of the parties and votes on that party's ballot; after voting he or she can return to the undeclared status.  As noted above, undeclared or independent voters form a significant voting group. 

The New Hampshire Boost

Beginning with the counting of the votes in tiny Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, results trickle in on primary night.  Supporters of the various candidates gather, usually in the Manchester area, to watch and see who will be able to claim the boost coming out of New Hampshire. 


In the last six New Hampshire Republican primaries, five were competitive.  The first-place finisher has gone on to win the nomination three times (former Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, Sen. John McCain in 2008, and President George H.W. Bush fending off Pat Buchanan in 1992).  The second-place finisher ended up winning the nomination twice (Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, after finishing second to McCain, and Sen. Bob Dole in 1996 after finishing second to Buchanan).

Top Finishers and Turnout in Recent New Hampshire Republican Primaries
Jan. 10, 2012 Romney 97,591 (39.2%),  Paul 56,872 (22.9%),  Huntsman 41,964 (16.9%),  Santorum 23,432 (9.4%),  Gingrich 23,421 (9.4%),  Others 3,195 (1.3%). 248,475

Jan. 8, 2008
McCain 88,713 (37.0%),  Romney 75,675 (31.6%),  Huckabee 26,916 (11.2%)... 

Jan. 27, 2004
Bush 53,962 (79.8%),  Others 13,662 (20.2%). 67,624

Feb. 1, 2000
McCain 115,606 (48.5%),  Bush 72,330 (30.3%),  Forbes 30,166 (12.6%)... 238,606

Feb. 20, 1996
Buchanan 56,874 (27.3%),  Dole 54,738 (26.2%),  Alexander 47,148 (22.6%)...

Feb. 18, 1992
Bush 92,271 (53.2%),  Buchanan 65,106 (37.6%),  Others 16,037 (9.2%).

In the last six New Hampshire Democratic primaries, three were competitive.  In 2000 Vice President Gore won the primary and went on to win the nomination.  In 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton bounced back from Iowa, but it was the second place finisher Sen. Barack Obama who went on to win the nomination.  In 2000, Gov. Bill Clinton finished second to Sen. Paul Tsongas but declared himself the "comeback kid" and went on to win the nomination.

Top Finishers and Turnout in Recent New Hampshire Democratic Primaries
Jan. 10, 2012 Obama 49,080 (82.0%),  Others 10,792 (18.0%).   59,872

Jan. 8, 2008
Clinton 112,404 (39.1%),  Obama 104,815 (36.5%),  Edwards 48,699 (16.9%)... 

Jan. 27, 2004
Kerry 84,377 (38.4%),  Dean 57,761 (26.3%),  Clark 27,314 (12.4%)... 219,787

Feb. 1, 2000
Gore 76,897 (49.7%),  Bradley 70,502 (45.6%),  Others 7,238 (4.7%). 154,637

Feb. 20, 1996
Clinton 76,797 (84.4%),  Others 14,230 (15.6%).

Feb. 18, 1992
Tsongas 55,663 (33.2%),  Clinton 41,540 (24.8%),  Kerrey 18,584 (11.1%)...

Note: DNC and RNC rules have different language covering the timing of the early primaries.

DNC rules specify specific dates for the four early states, including Feb. 9, 2016 for New Hampshire, while RNC rules have a general carve-out period that covers the four early states.

However, state law, cited above, trumps the rules. If other states move up their primary dates and encroach on the window, Secretary of State Bill Gardner will move its date forward.

DNC Rule 11 - "...Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 10 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 3 days before the first Tuesday in March..."

RNC Rule 16 (4) (c) (1) - "No primary, caucus, convention, or other process to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to the national convention shall occur prior to March 1 or after the second Saturday in June in the year in which a national convention is held. Except Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada may conduct their processes no earlier than one month before the next earliest state in the year in which a national convention is held and shall not be subject to the provisions of paragraph (c)(2) of this rule."

Dem. Visits  |  Rep. Visits


Rep. Endorse

Interest Group Activity



Key Dates

Nov. 4-Nov. 20, 2015 - Presidential primary filing period.

Feb. 9, 2016 - New Hampshire Primary.

April 17-18 - NHGOP #FITN Republican Leadership Summit at the Nashua Crowne Plaza in Nashua. >

Aug. 3 - Voters First Forum at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

Dec. 11 - File delegate slates.

Jan. 22-23 - NHGOP #FITN Presidential Town Hall at the Radisson Hotel in Nashua. >

Feb. 6 at 8.p.m. ET - RNC-sanctioned debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester (ABC News/IJ.com). (+)

Sept. 19 - NHDP State Convention at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. - DNC-sanctioned debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH (ABC News).

Jan. 18-22 - Filing period to become a District-level delegate.

Jan. 30 - 16 District-level delegates selected in congressional district caucuses.

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