New Hampshire

The New Hampshire primary, the first great event of the presidential nominating season, is a somewhat implausible exercise in political derring-do, myth, and commercialism. There is a certain frosty charm about it, but there is something of the old con game about it, too, and surely it is overrated as a test of candidates. Still, the New Hampshire primary is made important by the attention it receives. A small, tricky enclave of early voters can indeed have a disproportionate influence on the whole course of the nominating process.

On the second Tuesday in March, voters offer presidential preferences and elect delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions that will be held in August. As it is also town meeting day, the turnout may depend on the depth of snow, or the amount of interest in picking town selectmen and fixing potholes in the roads. Of the estimated 685,000 people in the state, 100,000 would be a good turnout for the Republican primary. That is not many votes in a nation where 27 million people voted Republican in 1964 (not a particularly good GOP year).

But 100,000 votes, or almost any fraction of them, will look impressive when the networks compute them and spin them around their slotmachine dials; when they “project” them and bring all their high-priced, analysis to bear on them in those otherworldly election studios. Based on the experience of 1964, the networks will spend between $1 million and $1.5 million just to gather and report the results of the Republican primary in New Hampshire. It does not take a computer to calculate, even at the smaller figure, that the network investment in vote counting comes to $10 per vote.

For all the primary’s electronic impact, the realistic allocations made by the Republican National Committee call for the state to elect a mere eight of 1333 delegates to the national nominating convention. On that basis, what happens in New . Hampshire should have an impact of six tenths of one percent on the ultimate decision of the convention itself.

Crucial battleground?

The inflation of New Hampshire’s reputation as a crucial battleground for Republican candidates has not been duplicated in the case of the Democrats. Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee went up there, in his" coonskin cap in 1952 and 1956 and won the primary over absentees. John F. Kennedy stepped across the Massachusetts line in 1960 and won it over nobody. President Johnson won it on write-ins in 1964 when nobody entered it. (The fact that there have been few conclusive confrontations between Democrats has probably encouraged the lingering myth that New Hampshire is a granite stronghold of Republicanism. We should keep in mind that Governor John King is a Democrat, as is United States Senator Thomas J. McIntyre; President Johnson polled 63.6 percent of the state’s vote in the 1964 general election.)

Although the Democrats have been wise or lucky enough not to dismember each other in the primary, the Republicans have had some rippers. They have had fewer of them, however, than myth might lead us to believe. Two is the correct number.

Republicans in New Hampshire have been choosing a few delegatesat-large by primary since early in this century, and the leanings of the delegates chosen did tend to forecast the party nominee. Then, in 1952, state law first provided for the voters to mark their preference for President directly. Ponderous news coverage of the primary also began in 1952. That was when Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio personally went into New Hampshire for a showdown with General Dwight D. Eisenhower in absentia. And that was when the primary stopped being looked upon as a vaguely interesting straw poll and began to be looked upon as a serious influence on American politics. The general defeated Mr. Republican, 46,661 to 35,838, and the demise of the Taft candidacy can be said to have begun there as the Eisenhower skyrocket went up. It can be said, but it is arguable. Ike was actually a favored candidate for either party’s nomination as early as 1948, and Taft’s candidacy was still very much alive at the 1952 convention, until he lost some delegate contests in the credentials committee.

The importance of being coy

After 1952 there were two Republican walkovers: Eisenhower won without opposition in 1956, and Richard Nixon won the same way in 1960. The second important battle of New Hampshire occurred in 1964 when Senator Barry Goldwater of: Arizona and Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York fought it out in the snow — and Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge beat them both as a mail-order write-in candidate.

The most striking feature of the Eisenhower and Lodge victories was that neither hero went anywhere near New Hampshire during the primary. General Eisenhower stayed with his command in Paris, denying that he was a candidate. Ambassador Lodge, who managed the Eisenhower campaign for the nomination in 1952 and ran for Vice President on Nixon’s ticket in 1960, stayed at the United States Embassy in Saigon, denying that he was a candidate. Fairly knowledgeable people still insist that the voters of New Hampshire want to see the candidates in person and judge the cut of their jibs. On the contrary, New Hampshire’s voters have an apparent weakness for a coy noncandidate who is overseas under patriotic circumstances.

Surely Nixon and Governor George Romney know the risks of subjecting themselves personally to the traps and whimsies of this spring’s primary. Yet established contenders — those with positions in the polls to consider — tend to be sucked in, as in the game of chicken. (In 1964, when his political base was in question and his fortunes low, Nixon managed to stay out. As a write-in candidate he received 15,600 votes, which left him only 5000 behind Senator Goldwater and 4000 behind Governor Rockefeller, both of whom had mushed up and down the state, at tremendous expense.)

In 1968, watchful Republican waiters can gracefully stay out of New Hampshire and perhaps find ingenious reasons to go to distant lands. Should eager-beaver friends file petitions on their behalf, the potential contenders have a variety of opportunities to get in on the fun in New Hampshire without necessarily being overwhelmed by their friends. The primary ballot has two distinct sections—the so-called “beauty-contest” section where candidates are listed by name for the voters to mark their preference, and the section where convention delegates are chosen. Any potential candidate can have his name kept off the beauty-contest section by so instructing the New Hampshire Secretary of State within ten days after being notified that proper petitions have been filed on his behalf. He can get his name off the ballot, but he still has the choice of encouraging, discouraging, or being neutral toward a write-in campaign.

The other section of the ballot offers a whole new set of possibilities. It is fairly simple for citizens of New Hampshire to file as candidates for delegate and to have the ballot indicate that they are “favorable” or “pledged” to a given presidential candidate. The potential presidential candidate has no ultimate control over this sort of thing. So a candidate could withdraw his name from one side of the ballot and see his delegate slate compete on the other.

With its fascinating primary law, the New Hampshire legislature has done nearly everything it could think of to assure that the state will have a contest in March. Obviously the range of tactical skulduggery is broad, and so is the range of accidents that can befall the innocent to the advantage of the undeserving. Whatever happens, everyone can be sure only that the importance of the primary will be feverishly overplayed throughout the country.

“Too thoughtful . . .”

Senator Norris Cotton, the current patriarch of New Hampshire Republicanism, has been embroiled in presidential politics since the time of Coolidge, and he has played a prominent part in the two significant primaries, those of 1952 and 1964. He was an Eisenhower manager in 1952 and the Goldwater manager in 1964. Cotton is not one of those taciturn New Hampshiremen who keep turning up in fillers in the Reader’s Digest. He is a big blustery man, outgoing, likable, and full of words. When I went to talk with him about the primary, Senator Cotton rocked forward in his chair, slammed his feet on the floor of his office, and boomed, “I wish to God I’d never heard of it. But the people of New Hampshire love it. They don’t care if it destroys every politican in the United States.”

When I asked him why his people were so fond of the thing, he replied, “For commercial reasons mainly. It’s a heyday in the off-season between the skiing and the summer camping. Then there’s all this national publicityHere come the politicians and the television crews and the busloads of reporters spending money and filling up motels, and the people just love it, I tell you.”

Is the primary a reasonably good test of New’ Hampshire’s preference for President?

“No! You get no considered judgment of the people. The average voter in New Hampshire feels ten feet high. He is thinking how his vote will have this terrific meaning for the whole country. He gets too thoughtful and self-conscious.”

Although many a politician might be uncomfortable running for reelection, as the forthright Cotton must do in 1968, after accusing his constituents of being too thoughtful, the point he was making had been demonstrated in 1964. Pondering the frailties of Goldwater and Rockefeller in the glare of national publicity, the voters shifted at the last minute to Lodge, who had kept his frailties in Vietnam. Some of them almost seemed to think this was necessary to keep their state from making a fool of itself before the nation. There was double-thinking of another kind: midway in the 1964 primary campaign, when Rockefeller was rising fast, I talked with a New Hampshire voter who said he preferred Rockefeller but had named Goldwater in a poll because the important thing was to keep the race close. At question-and-answer sessions with the candidates through that campaign, New Hampshire audiences sometimes sounded like Meet the Press panels, with everyone playing Lawrence Spivak.

“. . . sex life of a watermelon.”

As Senator Cotton put it, “Oh, they become very critical and start throwing all kinds of questions. And there was poor old Goldwater. I like Barry and admire him, but there he was thinking he had to answer all their questions right now. If they asked him about the sex life of a watermelon, he thought he had to come up with a frank answer. Now you take even a real sharp fellow and you have six busloads of the best reporters in the country following him around, and sooner or later he’s going to put his foot in his mouth.”

Cotton blamed a Democrat, the outlander Kefauver, for starting the practice of rambling all over the state, grabbing hands, patting children, and turning the primary into a carnival. Taft had not campaigned like that; he was reserved, like a New Hampshireman. When Taft lost to Eisenhower, the lesson that stuck with many stunned politicians was not that Taft had lost to a rival who did not campaign at all, but that he had campaigned too little and too stiffly.

Senator Cotton confessed to remembering the wrong lesson twelve years later when his man, Goldwater, took on Rockefeller. He said, “Rocky went in and started campaigning up and down the streets of every little town, so we sent our man in. We didn’t have any better sense.”

Mischief and madness

The New Hampshire campaign of 1964 exploded myths about the primary like strings of firecrackers and revealed its capacity for mischief and madness on a scale that made strong men wince. Goldwater, the throwback to an old conservatism, was inclined to accept the myth that New Hampshire Republicans were a flinty enclave of old conservatives waiting to be led to glory. So he met them face to face, spoke his sermons with candor, and appalled them. Foot in mouth, he sank awkwardly and steadily in the polls. Rockefeller used his superb research staff and the assembled facilities for national news coverage to destroy the naive, befuddled Arizonian. He could destroy him in New Hampshire, however, without impeding Goldwater’s rush to the nomination. There went the myth that a major candidate for the nomination cannot survive a crushing defeat in New Hampshire. (That myth had a large journalistic following, including me, in 1964. Even before the voting in New Hampshire, Joseph Alsop, who likes to be ahead of the news, had seen enough to write: “No serious Republican, even of the most Neanderthal type, any longer takes Goldwater seriously.”)

While Senator Goldwater was thrashing around in the primary, F. Clifton White and other realists were organizing his convention majority elsewhere in a series of untelevised precinct and district and state convention coups all across the country.

They knew the truth about the New Hampshire primary: you do not have to win it, or even do well in it, to get nominated. Yet the truth did not help them much in the end because New Hampshire haunted Barry Goldwater into November. Lyndon Johnson only had to use Nelson Rockefeller’s New Hampshire “book” on Goldwater in the national campaign. The Goldwater people saw this as an example of New Hampshire’s capacity for delayed mischief.

Fun and history

Rockefeller’s people saw a more immediate example. Nelson Rockefeller, Dartmouth ‘30, put on the most active, zesty, and shrewdly calculated campaign in the history of the primary. Economically, heaven knows, it was the most benevolent. New Hampshire’s hypocritical $25,000 legal limit on a candidate’s spending in the primary must still be sprained in spirit from the stretching Rockefeller gave it. He had problems, principally his divorce and remarriage, but he was doing remarkably well until a whimsical wrecking crew, little more than a merry band of pranksters, did him in. Rockefeller wound up third in New Hamsphire, destroyed.

Four young freebooters from Massachusetts rented a run-down storefront in Concord and cranked up a write-in campaign for Ambassador Lodge. They had worked together in his son George’s campaign for the Senate against Edward Kennedy. They had lost, but it had been fun and they were looking for another sporting challenge. Staying out of the snow, they relied on a pitch by direct mail and an old television clip associating Lodge with General Eisenhower. They were so successful in their adventure that they pulled votes off Rockefeller by the thousands. They won the primary for Lodge, who was as remote as Buddha and about as likely to go on to win the nomination. The far-reaching impact of the New Hampshire primary — however temporary, unrealistic, and parochial the decision may have been — was promptly demonstrated. Henry Cabot Lodge shot to the top of Republican polls throughout the country.

The Lodge caper was good fun and all that, but it is possible that the mischief in it changed history rather importantly. Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President: 1964, “What would have happened had Henry Cabot Lodge’s name not been entered in the New Hampshire race, no one can guess.”Then he did guess: “It is this reporter’s opinion that Nelson Rockefeller would have won by a flat majority, gone on to a larger majority in Oregon and then probably carried California to defeat Goldwater conclusively.”

Instead, moderates dreamed for a while that the unblemished Lodge would come home, and then they watched Governor William W. Scranton of Pennsylvania audition for Hamlet, and then it was too late.

Everyone a loser?

On the record of past performance, at least four generalizations can be made about the importance of the New Hampshire primary. One: It can give a candidate a little help or a lot of trouble. Two: It does not necessarily offer a clue to who will win the nomination, but it has the power to kill off candidates who might. Three: It can reveal a man to be a hopeless candidate for President without doing much to stop him. Four: It has close kinship to a lottery, and the odds are quite good that everyone who gets in will be a loser.

The possibilities in New Hampshire in 1968 fascinate politicians and cause them to tremble. In their early indications of full commitment to the primary, Nixon and Romney each seemed to accept the risk of disaster in exchange for a chance to stay whole and get ahead a little as a candidate. Governor Ronald Reagan of California has been enough of a dark horse to save his strength for later rounds.

Write-in votes and a Reagan slate could, however, boost him at Nixon’s expense, splitting away Republican conservatives. Similarly, a free-lance effort for Rockefeller would be sure to hurt Romney, and it might hurt Rockefeller himself by testing him prematurely as the candidate many moderates hope a “brokered” convention would turn to in August. James M. Gavin of Massachusetts, the retired general who advocates a new approach to peace in Vietnam, would be gambling in New Hampshire, whether he ran in person or Lodge-style. A strong showing by Gavin conceivably could promote a historic shift in political attitudes toward Vietnam, but a weak showing might discredit a rational peace movement at the very beginning of the presidential campaign season. Apart from the issue itself, much would depend on the resources and skill of Gavin’s amateur backers and the tactical situations of other candidates at the time. Anyway, is New Hampshire, where resident Republicans have been taking a rather hard line on the war, a good place to make a highly publicized test of peace sentiment?

On the Democratic side, President Johnson can be challenged by a campaign for Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. Kennedy can object, but never mind; his boosters can press on. It is remotely possible that they could inspire a national “dump Johnson” movement, but the odds are that they would embarrass the senator along with the President. (Kefauver’s victory over a Truman slate in 1952 hardly clinched the nomination for the former, nor was it the significant factor in persuading Truman not to run.) In New Hampshire, the game is never as simple as it looks, and the stakes are always higher than they ought to be.

Whatever the charade in the north country holds for us in 1968, the least we can do is cling to some sense of reality. New Hampshire, which will look like the essence of rural and small-town New England in most of the pictures, is one of the most highly industrialized states in the Union. Two of every five employed persons are engaged in manufacturing. More than half the population live in cities. Of the estimated 685,000 residents, fewer than 7000 are engaged in farming.

There will be splendid television sequences of candidates crossing old covered bridges. Feature writers will file colorful pieces from hamlets in the White Mountains. A candidate or two will even be seen crossing remote and seemingly unpopulated terrain by dogsled. Through it all I let us remember that more than I half the people of New Hampshire live within fifty miles of Boston. The population is growing faster than that of any other New England state except Connecticut, and the growth is mostly in sprawling housing developments not unlike those around Pittsburgh or Memphis.

There will be the traditional references to the New Hampshire electorate’s sturdy virtues and heritage of civic responsibility. It is all right for visiting candidates to talk like that. You would hardly expect them to point out that in some districts the public schools are poorly financed, that state services are somewhat sparse generally, and that the state government may be one of the nation’s most unwieldy and antiquated. New Hampshire has sturdily resisted income taxes and sales taxes, relying instead on taxing sinful pleasures like tobacco, beer, liquor, and betting on the horses. This was the first state to establish its own official lottery.

Ski slopes and sled dogs

In this day of vote profile analysis, the 1968 candidates presumably will know something about the jury they are trying to impress in New Hampshire. The rest of us should be alert to casual myths suggesting that the electorate represents a crosssection of something other than New Hampshire. One census figure in particular casts doubt on the state as a place to evaluate political trends and emotions in 1968: Negroes make up less than one half of one percent of the population.

Four of every ten citizens of New Hampshire are Roman Catholics. Three of every ten were foreign born or had one parent who was. The point is that there are more French, Italian, Irish, Polish, and Greek Americans than you might expect to find among the New Hampshire Yankees. True, the Republican Party has been dominated by Yankee Protestants and the Democrats have attracted most of the Catholics and “foreign stock,”in the Census Bureau’s phrase, but people do get married in New Hampshire and move upward economically and sideways politically.

Playing the game

For all New Hampshire’s flaws and foibles as a political testing ground, something must be said for campaigning up there. It is fun when so much in politics is not any longer. New Hampshire is where pundits from Washington get lost in their rented cars on the way to Center Sandwich and have to take refuge in motels and interview each other more than usual to find out what it all means; where orators rattle the clapboard walls of square old town halls with pleas for a new approach to problems foreign and domestic and then pay tribute to New Hampshire’s late Senator Styles Bridges and pass out fudge recipes to the ladies.

The people of New Hampshire enjoy it. They ought to. The visitors are playing their game. Even so, in the early days of a campaign it is refreshing to see them react so noncommittally to some of the leading celebrities of American politics; it also keeps the polls in doubt.

In 1964, in the dead of winter, I watched Barry Goldwater stomping grimly through a restaurant near Lebanon at lunch hour, shaking the hands of people with their mouths full, leading a string of aides and journalists in a sort of snake dance among the tables, driving the waitresses to cover in the kitchen. When this disruptive rite was over, I asked the proprietor how he felt about it all, and he said, “Oh, nobody minds. Last week Rockefeller, this week Goldwater — at this time of year we are glad to have any entertainment we can get.”

Charles McDowell, Jr.