A trip through ‘Political Junkie Week’ in N.H.

This column is being written in the middle of what may best be dubbed, “Political Junkie Week in New Hampshire,” or, “New Hampshire’s Political Disneyland Vacation.”This year, as everyone knows, Mitt Romney defeated Rick Santorum by eight “votes” in the Iowa caucus, and Ron Paul was a close third. Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race, Rick Perry went home to Texas to consider the future (and decided there was one), and other candidates headed for New Hampshire.Millions of dollars were spent either campaigning in Iowa or reporting on its process, but what probably was missed on most folks was the significance of Romney coming in first. This was an achievement for him, given the unrepresentative nature of the Republicans who participate in the Iowa caucuses.New Hampshire is next on the agenda and we are in the midst of it, although you will be reading this after the results have been known for some time.As is true every four years, candidates arrive bleary-eyed from lack of sleep on Wednesday, the 4th, and plunge headlong into six days of nonstop activity. Mitt Romney went to Manchester Central High School and then was endorsed by U.S. Sen. John McCain in Peterborough.Newt Gingrich held a number of events around the state, culminating on Jan. 4 at an event sponsored by the Josiah Bartlett Center at the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. The format of this event was interesting, since Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the center, spent an hour or so asking Gingrich questions, which Gingrich was free to answer in as long a period of time as he wished.I had the opportunity to take two 25-year-olds to this event. What struck us was the intelligence, breadth of knowledge, creativity and competence of Gingrich. No one in my group was inclined to vote for him, but we all came away with a respect for his competence and, as one of the young people said, “I would not be worried if that man was President of the United States.”Another phenomenon going during the political junkie week was the fate of candidate Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who bypassed Iowa to stake his entire campaign on New Hampshire.Many people have commented that Huntsman was the class of the field and would make the best candidate, “although he has no chance.”*****Also on January 4, at an event sponsored by the Business and Industry Association, Andy Smith, University of New Hampshire professor of political science and head of the UNH Survey Center, described the difficulty of predicting the outcome of New Hampshire primaries.Among Smith’s points: • There is not much of a “bump” coming out of Iowa for the New Hampshire primary, since the electorates are very different in composition. • “Undeclared” voters in New Hampshire can take either ballot at the polls and then restore their status as “undeclared” after voting. Within the category, there are various components. Therefore, Smith says, candidates who seek to get the independent vote or attract those in the middle, face a great danger, since truly independent voters have a tendency not to vote at all. • A significant number of voters do not make up their minds on the candidate for whom they are going to vote in a primary until they walk into the voting booth, or shortly before that time. • Mitt Romney, who has campaigned here for a long time, who has organization and money, who comes from a neighboring state and owns property in New Hampshire, was the odds-on favorite to win the New Hampshire primary. Likewise, since he had the best organization and most money going forward, he had the best chance to be named as the eventual Republican nominee.Smith further opined that President Obama will have a structural difficulty this year, given his popularity rating and precarious standing in many of the “swing” states he carried last time.Dispelling the myth that it was the youth vote that elected Obama in 2008, Smith noted that there was only a slightly larger vote among young people in 2008 than in 2004. The real difference in turnout was among African-American voters in various states. Whether they can be motivated to vote again in the same numbers may influence the outcome, but President Obama faces challenges in re-election if the Republicans come up with a credible candidate who can appeal to the center of the electorate which usually decides elections.So, what is the effect of the New Hampshire primary? Its effect is to be the real first vote, although Iowa does provide a winnowing-out of the field.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.