Monday, January 09, 2012

Winning in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is in the news a lot these days because tomorrow the “Live Free or Die” state will hold the first primary in the US presidential sweepstakes.

And because it is the first primary, it can make or break a contender’s momentum.

In other words, New Hampshire may be small, but its influence on US politics is huge.

So what will it take for Republican presidential wannabes to win this key primary?

Well first off, the nominees better forget all that stuff about wining votes through new-fangled notions like social media.

To be successful in New Hampshire requires old-fashioned “retail” campaigning, namely lots of baby-kissing, hand-shaking and Town Hall-attending. Simply put, “Granite Staters”, as they call themselves, want to see candidates up close.

And make no mistake, Granite Staters know what to look for in an candidate. They are as knowledgeable about politics as Canadians are about hockey.

Just consider the New Hampshire state legislature boasts 424 members making it the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world, behind only India’s Parliament, the United Kingdom’s Parliament and the US Congress.

Not bad for a state with a population of only 1.3 million.

And get this: New Hampshire state legislators are paid a grand total of about $100 a year.  That’s right, for Granite Staters running for office, getting elected and passing state legislation are all basically hobbies.

My point is they appreciate a well-run campaign and a well prepared candidate.

And their interest in politics is intense. I saw this first-hand in 2010 while working on a campaign in a mid-term Republican US Senate primary race.

For example, one time my candidate’s organizers scheduled a “Town Hall Meeting” on a beautiful mid-July Sunday. To me this seemed a mistake. Nobody, I thought, would come to a hotel basement on a weekend just to hear a candidate prattle on about a primary election that wouldn’t take place for another four months.

Boy was I wrong. The place ended up packed with Republicans. And they all knew their issues backwards, forwards and sideways.

And what do New Hampshire voters care about? Well one thing they care about is the right to own and bear arms. Anyone who ever wants to run for a Republican nomination in the state, had better own a gun and had better have fired it in the recent past.

Also Republican candidates should pander a bit to the state’s largest ethnic group, which by the way just happens to be French-Canadians.  Check the New Hampshire phone book and you will find lots of Lamontange’s Boudettes and Ayottes.

Meanwhile, all candidates should beware of the Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, whose endorsement is extremely influential when it comes to Republican politics.

What’s interesting about the Union Leader, however, is not only does it endorse a candidate, it will often editorially savage the candidates it didn’t endorse.

This time the paper is backing Newt Gingrich, which certainly gives him an edge.

But that doesn’t mean Gingrich will necessarily come out on top.

In fact, polls show former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has a real good shot at winning in New Hampshire. This makes sense because Romeny is a New Englander.

If there is anything I learned about Granite Staters, it’s they can be wary of people from outside their region. So many of them may vote Romney simply because he is one of their own.

Oh and there’s one final fact candidates need to know about New Hampshire: It’s actually pronounced “New Hampshah”

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