Political Pulse July 2006

The Clintons of New Hampshire

After Democrats lose a presidential race, their first impulse is to change the primary calendar.
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Ever notice that after Democrats lose a presidential race, their first impulse is to change the primary calendar? Well, they're at it again.

To critics who say that the presidential primary calendar is too "front-loaded"—that the nominee is chosen too early by too few voters in too few states—Democrats have an answer: Let's front-load it even more! The party's rules and bylaws committee has voted to allow two more states to hold early delegate-selection contests along with Iowa and New Hampshire.

If, as expected, the full Democratic National Committee approves the calendar next month, one state will be permitted to hold a caucus between the Iowa caucuses in mid-January and the New Hampshire primary eight days later. The added caucus will most likely be in a Western state, probably Arizona, Colorado, or Nevada. Another primary would take place a few days after New Hampshire, presumably in a Southern state, before the window for nominating contests officially opens on February 5.

If that's the solution, what's the problem? Lack of diversity. Historically, New Hampshire and Iowa were given a dispensation to go first because they are small. They allow—in fact, they virtually require—face-to-face campaigning with less emphasis on the money and packaging that is customary in larger states.

The complaint is, however, that Iowa and New Hampshire voters are overwhelmingly white. The two states that have the most say in determining the Democratic nominee do not represent the ethnic diversity of the party or the geographic diversity of the country. A Western caucus would add Hispanic votes; a Southern primary would add African-Americans. What Democrat could object to that?

Well, former President Clinton said on a recent visit to New Hampshire, "I worry about the continued pushing of the presidential calendar forward by states that think they can be more important if they are earlier, robbing candidates of the time they need to actually do what you have to do if you are in New Hampshire."

Could defending New Hampshire have something to do with, oh, say, his wife's presidential ambitions? The former president said that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton "believes what I believe about what I got out of New Hampshire. She has exactly the same feeling I do."

Then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas did not actually win the New Hampshire primary in 1992. He came in second to then-Sen. Paul Tsongas of nearby Massachusetts. But after weeks of controversy over Clinton's relationship with Gennifer Flowers and his draft record, finishing second in New Hampshire enabled him to revive his campaign.

If Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2008, she will have a lot riding on the New Hampshire primary. The Clintons may be worried about Iowa. A poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers by The Des Moines Register last month showed John Edwards, who came in second in the 2004 Iowa caucuses, in first place with 30 percent; he was far ahead of the 2004 winner, John Kerry, who was in third place with 12 percent. Hillary Clinton was second with 26 percent. It was the first poll of Democrats to show someone other than her in the lead.

Right now, Sen. Clinton is having problems with the left wing of her party. Caucuses tend to draw a larger proportion of committed activists than do primaries. That's because a primary is an election. A caucus is a meeting. Attending a caucus requires a bigger commitment of time, typically several hours on a cold winter night. Iowa is two and a half times as large as New Hampshire. (It has 2 million registered voters compared with New Hampshire's 800,000). But in 2004, just 125,000 Democrats participated in the Iowa caucuses compared with nearly 220,000 party members who voted in the New Hampshire primary.

Iowa Democrats tend to be intensely anti-war. Hillary Clinton has not done what John Edwards did, which is to say that it was a mistake to vote in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq. So, it makes sense politically for the Clintons to take up New Hampshire's cause. If Sen. Clinton loses Iowa, New Hampshire could do the same thing for her that it did for her husband in 1992. It could make her the "Comeback Kid."

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William Schneider is the Cable News Network's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. His column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.

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