Reflections on the primary that was
They came, we voted, they left - all in a flash! About a week after the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary on Jan. 10, what lessons should we take from it and what impressions are there?Because there was such a short time between the Iowa show and the New Hampshire primary -- seven days -- and because a number of the candidates did not come straight to New Hampshire but took detours, the intense "all politics all the time" feeling was limited to more like four or five days.Of course, in 2008, there were hotly contested primaries in both major political parties, with observers remembering seeing the Clinton and Obama motorcades passing each other on Elm Street, while Sen. John McCain held a news conference in another part of town.ABC News set up a major studio adjacent to Manchester City Hall from which all of America could see the various campaign supporters demonstrate in favor of their candidates against the backdrop of a giant American flag on the west façade of City Hall. This time, ABC canceled its reservation for the same space, pleading poverty. That may be the poster child for this primary.Another factor was the presence of a perceived front-runner and quasi-favorite son candidate, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and part-time Wolfeboro resident.Other candidates faced his lead in the polls, campaign organization and substantial financial resources at a disadvantage, and that probably affected their efforts.Much has been said about the role the large number of debates and forums have played in this primary, as opposed to "retail" politics. The ups and downs of various candidates' fortunes as the alternative to Romney have been tied to debate performances, and candidates seem to have relied on them as opposed to traditional organization to produce results in the election. As shown, organization counts.*****What of the results? Romney, as expected, finished first, and did so with a strong finish, higher than many predicted the night before. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, with his band of libertarian voters, many of whom might not vote in the GOP primary if he were not on the ballot, finished second. Hard-working former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who put all his apples in the New Hampshire basket, was rewarded with third place, albeit in the high teens against more than twice as many votes for Romney.Trailing in fourth was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who came close to Romney in Iowa but had no base in New Hampshire, and closely behind in fifth was Gingrich. Both got less than 10 percent each.Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who skipped New Hampshire except for the debates, was skipped by the voters, who gave him about 1 percent of the vote.Observations? Romney did well, was the first non-incumbent in a long time to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, and was ratified by New Hampshire as the organized, financed candidate to beat. He is in a strong position going forward, although he needs a field with the more conservative candidates, both socially and philosophically, still in the race to split the vote of non-Romney voters.Huntsman (for whom I voted) never caught on sufficiently. He should have emphasized his conservative record as a governor and sought Republican votes, rather than seeking Democrats and independents, who either cannot or are unlikely to vote in a primary. It was fairly obvious that he had no place to go after New Hampshire, and he withdrew on Martin Luther King Day in favor of Romney.The other candidates were a source of wonder on election night, when they tried in vain to make good news out of bad.Ron Paul, of course, who is trying to make many valid points (along with the other ones he makes) could take pride in a good showing. It is fairly obvious he is not serious about election, although he is serious about what he says, and much of it is a reminder of important constitutional principles.Santorum and Gingrich, however, in trying to make less than 10 percent each into a reason to go forward, were a thing to behold.South Carolina should be the place where others join Huntsman at the exit, although who they endorse when leaving may be different.Will the New Hampshire primary survive? Yes. Do some changes need to be made? Yes -- the time between Iowa and New Hampshire needs to be lengthened and the parties need to take back control of the process. Will that happen? Not if recent history is any guide. But, as always, it not only was fun, but New Hampshire had a major say in the future of the United States, and was serious in carrying out that responsibility.Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.