The poster child of primaries

Secretary of state production celebrates centennial of New Hampshire institution

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire presidential primary, longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner has produced a poster noting the centennial.

The poster, which features pictures of the presidents who have won the primary, notes, “Since the primary ballot included, for the first time, a direct vote for president beginning in 1952, EVERY PRESIDENT HAS WON AT LEAST ONE NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY.”

The history of the primary noted in the “pillars of the primary” section of the poster. It starts with Rep. Stephen A. Bullock, a Democrat from Richmond, authored the law creating the primary to choose delegates in the 1913 legislative session.

In 1915, Rep. John Glessner, a Republican from Bethlehem, authored an amendment to the Bullock law changing the primary date from May town meeting to election day in March.

In 1949, Republican House Speaker Richard Upton of Concord produced legislation to include the names of candidates on the ballot in a separate “beauty contest,” which allowed voters to pick their favorite candidate in addition to voting for individual delegates.

Hugh Gregg of Nashua, who served as governor from 1952 to 1954, championed the primary then and later. He and Gardner are perhaps its most notable protector and promoter. Indeed, Gardner, a Democrat, co-authored a book on the primary’s history along with Republican Gregg.

In 1975, Rep. Jim Splaine, a Democrat from Portsmouth, authored a law allowing the secretary of state to set the date of the primary to be sure it was first, protecting the “first-in-the-nation” reputation. Later, Rep. Natalie S. Flanagan, Republican of Atkinson, sponsored and co-sponsored legislation to provide critical flexibility and strength to the Splaine law.

Pictures of the presidents since 1952 include Dwight D. Eisenhower, who won the 1952 and 1956 elections. John F. Kennedy won the 1960 primary in a heated battle to be on his way to victory.

Lyndon Johnson, the poster claims, won the 1964 primary, which certainly is true since he was virtually unopposed the year after President Kennedy was assassinated. What is remembered most about Johnson, however, is not on the poster, and that is his 1968 primary battle with Eugene McCarthy, which resulted in his withdrawal from the race after he technically “won” by getting slightly more votes, but was tagged because many of his delegates lost to McCarthy’s delegates, since Johnson had made a mistake and let anybody run for delegate who wanted to, not limited to the number being elected.

Richard M. Nixon won in 1960, 1968 and 1972, being the only three-time primary winner. That picture is an interesting one from the University of New Hampshire in 1968 in which several young people on the stage may recognize themselves now, 51 years later!

Gerald Ford won the 1976 primary in a hard-fought battle, and Jimmy Carter won the 1976 primary as an unknown former Georgia governor.

Ronald Reagan won in 1980 and 1984, bouncing back from a loss to George Bush in the Iowa caucus in 1980. The elder Bush won the 1988 primary and the 1992 primary, although he was challenged and wounded in that primary by Pat Buchanan.

Bill Clinton did not win the 1992 primary, coming in second to Paul Tsongas. He did win in 1996 as the incumbent president. George W. Bush won in the 2004 primary as the incumbent but did not win in 2000, losing to John McCain. Barack Obama won as the incumbent in 2012 but lost to Hillary Clinton in 2008, and Donald Trump won the 2016 primary in a very crowded field.

The poster is a fine historical document and teaching tool for those who want to know more about the New Hampshire primary. Gardner, it should be noted, has presided over all the primaries since 1976 — next year will be his 12th!

The poster can be obtained from the secretary of state’s office.

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He can be reached at


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