New Hampshire primary: why the 2012 campaign is different
A host of nationally televised presidential debates has left some New Hampshire voters hungering for closer – and more substantive – contact with the candidates.
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Registered Republican George Morin, in the audience for the Gingrich-Huntsman debate, said that although Gingrich "wasn't doing so well early on, I kept following him, and as the others dropped off I was happy to see ... Gingrich was keeping on point with his topics, not attacking the other Republican candidates." His support for Gingrich, he says, is "pretty firm."Skip to next paragraph
The 'undeclareds' as wild card
Mr. Morin is part of a wave of former Massachusetts residents who have flowed north to New Hampshire in recent decades. Some have brought Democratic views along with them; many others, like Morin, wanted to escape the liberal leanings and relatively high taxes of the Bay State.
But migration from other states, for high-tech jobs that require high levels of education, has done just as much to nudge New Hampshire a little more toward the Democratic Party, contributing to its swing-state status, says Mr. Smith of the University of New Hampshire.
Between the early 1960s and early '90s, New Hampshire voters favored Republican presidential candidates. Then they swung to Bill Clinton in 1992 and '96, to George W. Bush in 2000, and back to Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.
New Hampshire has a popular Democratic governor but in 2010 elected a strong majority of Republicans to the state House and Senate. Registered Republicans and Democrats are evenly split, and both are outnumbered by "undeclared" voters.
Because independent voters – 40 percent of the electorate – can decide on the day of the primary which party's contest they'll vote in, their role is always scrutinized. But it has proved to be difficult to predict.
In 2008, with contests in both parties, 55 percent of undeclared New Hampshire voters took part in the primaries, says Michael Dupre, a senior research fellow at NHIOP. In 2004, when only Democrats had a real race, just 38 percent did. He estimates that 40 to 45 percent will participate this time around.
Huntsman as spoiler?
Even though the plethora of national debates among GOP candidates has dominated the GOP campaign, including in New Hampshire, some political experts expect that the state will nonetheless reward candidates who have strong campaigns on the ground.
Huntsman, who has put all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket, could attract more Republicans if they grow weary of the fight between the Romney and Gingrich camps, or he could grab independents looking for a moderate voice, several experts say.
"He can't be underestimated at least for serious spoiler potential" because he would likely draw votes away from Romney, says political scientist Dante Scala of the University of New Hampshire.
Among independents in New Hampshire, Mr. Paul was leading in a Dec. 12 poll by Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research, with 24.1 percent support, trailed just slightly by Gingrich and Romney. Huntsman was fourth with 13.3 percent. Another poll that week showed Huntsman running second among independents.