Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Hampshire

I have never been to New Hampshire. I've been to Vermont and Maine, but never New Hampshire. Like those other New England gems, I suspect I would find much to like about living in any one of those states. The quadrennial media-driven show known as the New Hampshire Primary, however, may be a different story.
My first recollection of the New Hampshire Primary was back in March 1964, when "write-in" candidate Henry Cabot Lodge defeated Barry Goldwater, who nonetheless went on to win his party's nomination after a very divisive campaign and convention only to lose by a landslide to the incumbent, President Lyndon Johnson. All that was back in the days when formal campaigning didn't start until the actual calendar "election year," when the first primary was in March, when conventions still mattered, and when primary votes (as opposed to media-driven perceptions) still mattered. I was a high school kid at the time. High School is an unhappy time for most kids, I suspect. It was exceptionally so for me. But I found politics interesting even then, and it certainly served to distract me from my inner angst. I remember being quite taken with the New Hampshire results and followed with great interest that year's civil war between the liberal and conservative wings of the Republican party. We all know how that turned out, and we are still living with the long-term consequences of it today!
Four years later, in 1968, the NH Primary really did matter. President Johnson won the most votes, defeating Senator Eugene McCarthy, who however did surprisingly well. The result was that Senator Robert Kennedy "reassessed" and later that month (still March) entered the race, resulting in Johnson's withdrawal from the campaign at the end of March. This time the nomination went to Johnson's surrogate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. This time it was the Democrats' turn to tear themselves apart and lose the election.
After that, we moved into the present era when primaries abound, when campaigns go on for ever, and when winners and losers are anointed by the media well in advance of most voters getting any chance to express their preference in their states' primaries. That Romney is now considered virtually unbeatable, based on his victory in New Hampshire, to me says less about him or his party, and more about our contemporary, self-fulfilling expectation that the best financed and best organized candidate is supposed to win.

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