What History Tells Us about the New Hampshire Primary Winner

January 11, 2012
Live Q&A

A scholar specializing in modern American political and intellectual history, Ellen Fitzpatrick is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author and editor of seven books including Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation; History's Memory: Writing America's Past, 1880-1980; America in Modern Times, co-authored with Alan Brinkley; and Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform as well as many articles and reviews. She was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2008-2009. Fitzpatrick, who holds a PhD in History from Brandeis University, has taught previously at Harvard University, M.I.T. and Wellesley College. 

About the topic

Mitt Romney is the first-ever non-incumbent Republican to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Chat with historian Ellen Fitzpatrick about what history tells us about the New Hampshire primary winner, and how Mitt Romney falls into this group. Want to know what Romney's win in New Hampshire might mean for the rest of his campaign? Ask Ellen.

Submit your questions and opinions now.

Ellen Fitzpatrick : Greetings Washington Post readers. This is Ellen Fitzpatrick. I'm a Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire and looking forward to discussing the New Hampshire primary with you today.

Q. Campaign spending

What role does campaign spending play in New Hampshire, and
has this changed over the decades? Have there been many candidates (perhaps
Eugene McCarthy?) who may not have spent much money yet connected with New
Hampshire voters? Does a large spending advantage create a large advantage in
the New Hampshire Primary?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Campaign spending grows in importance
everywhere, including NH. Mitt Romney spent heavily here. I think having cash
on hand certainly helps, especially with television advertising. It is an advantage
for sure

Q.Tone of the victor

I was reading over the excerpts of Governor Romney's speech
and was struck by how vitriolic and divisive it was towards President Obama.
This is a sharp contrast to then Senator Obama's speech (which was after a
close loss to Senator Clinton) which was the first "Yes We Can"
speech which acknowledged that everyone had valid ideas and that we should be
attempting to unite rather than divide. I was wondering, in your memory can you
remember any New Hampshire primary winner from either party who was so angry in
his speech who went on to win an election?

A. Ellen Fitzpatrick: An excellent observation. Primaries
are generally focused on the parties - and thus the tone is often meant to
rally the base. They have a national audience too, though, that is watching
carefully. And you rightly note the downside of trying to rally the party
faithful with rhetoric that alienates other voters.

Q. role of newspapers

Do newspaper endorsements influence outcomes? Specifically,
the Manchester Union-Leader?

A. Ellen Fitzpatrick: They have some impact on undecideds
who do pay attention. The Manchester Union Leader is neither as conservative
nor influential as it once was, however.

Q.Winning NH, and then . . .

Harald Stassen, Henry Cabot Lodge, Pat Buchanan and John
McCain all won the NH primary and failed to get the nomination. Eugne
McCarthy's almost-win against a write-in candidate (who happened to be an
incumbent President) was probabloy more earth-shaking. Who would you regard as
the biggest loser this time around?

A. Ellen Fitzpatrick: Very good point. 12 of our last 15
presidential victors won the NH primary. So a win is NH might be considered
necessary but insufficient. The loser this time appears to be John Huntsman who
hoped to do better than expected.

Q. New Hampshire GOP Branch of Occupy Wall Street

What struck me as strange about the New Hampshire primary
was the continued attacks from Romney's rivals about his tenure at Bain
Capital. The Wall Street Journal described the attacks as "charges that in
his business career he was a corporate predator, a heartless shredder of
companies and jobs and the personification of all that is wrong with
capitalism". All of these things are celebrated by the GOP, how in the
world can any of Romney's rivals criticize him for this with a straight face?
Why do you think the charges didn't have an impact in New Hampshire and will
they resonate going forward?

A. Ellen Fitzpatrick: The NH voters know Mitt Romney as a
moderate. They have had a chance to observe him for many years not only as a
primary candidate but as Governor of Massachusetts. His "born again"
conservatism seems, perhaps, less credible to them than his record of
moderation. Whether beyond the primary forum these attacks will resonate is
quite a fascinating question. The national electorate is very different than
the primary voters

Q.demographic shifts

As a percentage of the whole US-population, New Hampshire is
losing terrain to the West. Will this impact the importance of its primary in
the near future?

A. Ellen Fitzpatrick: As long as it is "first in the
nation," NH will enjoy some advantage simply because it kicks off, with
Iowa, the presidential election season. Whether it SHOULD have this influence
is another question entirely!

Q.SuperPAC $ made it more bitter?

The huge sums we waste on this race depress me. Compared to
previous races, do you think NH was harsher due to PAC ads?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Not sure if it was harsher but no
question but that an awful lot of money is in play. Reformers in the early 20th
century hoped the primary system would restore power to the people and diminish
business corruption of politics. They didn't anticipate the role of the media
or the existence of SUPER PACS!

Q. delegate allocation

How do you think the new process for allocating delegates
will affect these predictions based on historical outcomes?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Great question. I don't expect this to
change outcomes in this race. But the rule changes show the ambivalence in the
parties over the primary system. The party leaders want to hang onto their
power to determine the outcome while appearing to celebrate the voices of the
average voters.

Q.Romney in NH

In terms of social positions, likeability, etc., is a
candidate like Romney typical for the winner of New Hampshire?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Yes and no. He is a moderate Republican
and one that Republican voters in NH are familiar with and comfortable with. NH
has become increasingly Democratic over the past few elections. The voters
liked Bill Clinton, for instance. And they voted for Obama in '08. Cultural
conservatives have not done as well as late in NH

Q.New Hampshire

Where is old Hampshire?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: In England!

Q.Local state recruitment

Does having the primary in New Hampshire help showcase local
politicians? I do note the Sununu family has done well in White House
appointments. What other New Hampshire politicans have probably benefitted from
the extra exposure given to New Hampshire politics?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Excellent question. It does indeed. The
young Senator Ayotte has gotten a lot of mileage out of the primary. She came
out for Romney and had a chance to showcase her concerns about issues that
touch the state directly. Very bullish, for instance, on federal military
spending with an eye on the Portsmouth Shipyard.

Q.Romney making history

So how will Romney's New Hampshire win go down in the
history books?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Very solid win. Others have had larger
margins to be sure. But McCain, who was well liked in NH, only got about 37% in
2008. George Bush won with 37% in 1988.

Q.social liberal state

Could winning a state that is generally presumed to be
socially liberal, ever be a liability in conservative states? - in the sense
that conservatives might say: "If he resonates with that folk, he must be
a liberal!" Something like the New York Times endorsing a republican.

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Very interesting thought. I wouldn't be
surprised if it is a talking point in South Carolina! But I think a candidate
only gains by showing strength in different areas of the country. If you can
win in the Northeast among a range of Republican voters, and then go off to the
South and win there, you demonstrate strength, or so many assume, as a national
candidate with the legs to win

Q.Mitt Romney wins

Is Romney the first non-incumbent to win both Iowa and New
Hampshire? I read that online today...is that right?

A.Ellen Fitzpatrick: Gee, I'm not sure---apologies.

Ellen Fitzpatrick: Thanks for your great questions. We have a very long
political season ahead and it will be an endurance test for the public! 

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