MANCHESTER, N.H. – The first-in-the-nation presidential primary is being held in this state today. “If you ever wanted to get on TV,” the Union Leader newspaper quoted Manchester Mayor Ted Gastas as saying, “head to Manchester and walk up any sidewalk, sit in any restaurant or attend any event.
“It will be hard not to be interviewed.”
Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, has about 110,000 residents who, by and large, are happy to play host to thousands of media representatives and “political tourists.”
“Our primary season is our Mardi Gras,” a passerby told the People’s World. I hope we’re always the first in the nation.”
In fact, the New Hampshire primary has been the first in the nation since 1916, but only in recent years has it received so much media attention.
The three most recent presidential election winners – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – finished second in the New Hampshire primary. Before that, the previous four presidents won in the primary.
What makes New Hampshire so important in predicting the outcome of presidential elections? It’s not because it’s a typical state. It’s one of the smallest states in the U.S., with just 1.33 million people. It’s one of the whitest states: 92 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white. And it’s one of the richest states, with a median family income over $10,000 more than the nation as a whole.
New Hampshire sends a mere 32 out of 4,764 delegates to the National Democratic convention and 23 out of 2,472 to the Republican convention.
It commands just 4 votes in the Electoral College.
It’s true that New Hampshire is politically interesting because control swings back and forth between Democrats and Republicans.
It’s also true that unlike Iowa with its arcane, complicated system of caucuses and conventions New Hampshire voters directly chose their presidential favorites in one fell swoop.
But what really makes New Hampshire so important to presidential campaigns is the media itself. And the media has chosen to focus on New Hampshire because in recent years the industry is desperate to fill air time.
Furthermore, presidential candidates use New Hampshire as a testing ground for their messages and campaign organizations. “We’re proud of the fact that presidential contenders emerge from New Hampshire as better candidates,” said the head of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
He didn’t mean “better” as advocates for policies to help people. He meant “better” as political performers and campaign technicians.
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, New Hampshire is an exciting place to be right now.
So-called “political tourists” pour into the state from all over the world, swelling the coffers of New Hampshire’s tourist industry and creating a party atmosphere wherever you go.
It’s exciting to see celebrity politicians and pundits sitting at the table next to you in the coffee shops and cafes.
And, maybe most important to those who are working to build a better America, progressive groups are learning to use the media’s focus on this state.
A demonstration supporting raising the minimum wage got a lot of coverage in tiny Goffstown and in their never-ending search to fill newspaper columns and television and radio airtime, reporters covered a meeting of Latino New Hampshirites who mounted a get-out-the-vote campaign.
Photo: Political tourists in New Hampshire. | AP