Cook On Concord: They came. We voted. They left.
New Hampshire voters went to the polls on Jan. 8 to vote in the Republican and Democratic primaries. In an atmosphere electric with media scrutiny, out-of-state volunteers and national attention, a record number of voters (120,000 more than four years ago) participated in both primaries — more in the Democratic primary than in the Republican, apparently.
As usual, New Hampshire voters did not do what they were told they were going to do, at least not completely.
The day before the election, some polls had Barack Obama defeating Hillary Clinton for the first spot on the Democratic side by as many as 10 percentage points, and many observers thought undeclared voters taking Democratic ballots would swell that total. On the Republican side, John McCain was predicted to win over Mitt Romney by as many as 10 points as well.
On election day, good weather resulted in a record turnout, but apparently more traditional Democrats voted than new young voters, and Hillary Clinton got the top spot by two percentage points. All this has been analyzed every which way, but my take is that the turnout of traditional Democrats favored Mrs. Clinton, the “Democratic establishment” candidate, and in somewhat of a reverse twist, Obama’s good showing in Iowa may have made people think about the experience factor and not just his phenomenon in making a choice. Still, he remains one of the most intriguing new faces in politics and inspired thousands who otherwise would not have participated to vote.
All of the candidates did a good job in the debates held at St. Anselm College on the Saturday prior to the election. There was a lot of local pride in WMUR’s Scott Spradling joining Charles Gibson on stage. Only Governor Romney appeared to get tagged in that debate. Mrs. Clinton was quite effective in reminding folks about the experience factor in her “reality check” remarks at the debate although, some questioned her assertion about 35 years experience with “change.”
With the schedule of primaries so front-loaded, many of the candidates will stay in through Feb. 5 and hope that money and organization can result in good showings. Attention will now start to turn to who has how many delegates and how many are needed to be nominated. Many observers think by Feb. 5 the ultimate winners will be known.
Besides politicians, however, there were a lot of winners in the New Hampshire primary this year. First, the primary itself was a winner in that it received record attention, scrutiny, produced a credible vote, and the results were not quirky but solid. Had some unknown candidate done very well or had the turnout been worse, those who criticize the primary might have had a point. Almost all observers praised the reason for and the results of the process in vetting candidates carefully before real voters.
Next, Secretary of State Bill Gardner was a clear winner, protecting the primary and administering it well.
Finally, New Hampshire itself was a winner with special emphasis on the incalculable attention and publicity given to St. Anselm College. Those who know this fine liberal arts school already appreciate its quality, but the amount of publicity could not have been bought for any amount of money. Likewise, Manchester City Hall is now known to all Americans who watch ABC News, as is the Citizens Bank building across the street from it.
Now, attention in political circles in New Hampshire turns to our own backyard.
First, when nobody was looking, the Legislature came back to Concord and started its work. There are a number of significant issues facing it, including a proposal to join a Regional Green House Gas Initiative, which will receive a lot of attention, costing the adequate education definition and seeing how to fund it, several initiatives to expand gambling in New Hampshire, which will be controversial, and scores of other bills.
Political leaders want the legislative session to be short so people can go home, this being an election year when all 424 legislators stand for re-election along with the governor, both congressmen, five executive councilors, county officials, Senator Sununu up for re-election and, you may recall, a presidential election in November.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.