Reaper or Redeemer: New Hampshire primary can kill a candidacy or save it
Another Massachusetts figure used home turf to better advantage in 1988. Coming out of Iowa in third place, Gov. Michael Dukakis notched a 16-percentage-point victory in New Hampshire, before going on to sweep the Super Tuesday primaries and cruise to the nomination. That New Hampshire win pushed Dukakis to the front of a much-derided pack of weak candidates known collectively as the "Seven Dwarfs" and sometimes "the Carpool."
Like Tsongas and Dukakis, Mitt Romney is essentially at home here. He lives in Boston and owns a summer home in New Hampshire. This made his 2008 loss to McCain all the more devastating. But the truth was more complicated. McCain had bested George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000, and in 2008 McCain had made it his second home, ignoring Iowa and crisscrossing the state by bus.
This year promises to be very different. New Hampshire's GOP primary voters are much less conservative and evangelical than Iowa's. This now favors Romney as a Mormon centrist. He was vulnerable in 2008 in a field of three moderates (Romney, McCain, Giuliani) and one conservative (Huckabee). Now, paradoxically, New Hampshire's centrism now favors him as the dominant moderate (alongside Huntsman) in a field otherwise seen as sharply ideological in style and tone, if not purely conservative in substance (Perry, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul).
With a win here, Romney would be the first Republican nonincumbent in the modern primary era to win both New Hampshire and Iowa. On the Democratic side, only John Kerry managed this in 2004. Even more significant, however, is the burden on his closest rivals. Except Santorum, his co-winner in Iowa, all the others — including the once-soaring Newt Gingrich — will be forced to make history if they expect to come back after failing to redeem an Iowa loss with a New Hampshire win. The dynamics of American politics may have shifted so much that this is less daunting than it appears. But don't bet on it.
Eric Schulzke is the director of the Apollo 13 Project (a13.org), a prisoner reentry initiative based at Utah Valley University. He can be reached at eric[at]a13.org.
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