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Election Connection

January 6, 2008

New Hampshire matters; State's primary record is long - and impressive

One thing has remained constant about New Hampshire politics in the past 85 years - the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.



In two days, voters will head to the polls for the state's 22nd primary.



While the date, candidates and voters' political opinions have changed, the expectations - and significance - haven't.



Since 1920, when New Hampshire earned first-in-the-nation primary status, most expect the state to pick a winner.



Only twice since New Hampshire voters have chosen a presidential nominee have they failed to pick a winner. The first time was in 1992, when Democrats chose former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., over Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Just eight years later, state Republicans chose U.S. Sen. John McCain over President George W. Bush.



These two votes mar an otherwise flawless voting record, but that doesn't mean voters won't pick the winner this time around, according to Secretary of State William Gardner.



While it's unclear why New Hampshire residents have such a great voting record, those who have observed and studied the primary process agree on one thing: It's the state's history, perhaps even in residents' blood.



After all, the term "Republican" was coined in Exeter in 1853, long before the primary system even existed. And, as Gardner pointed out, New Hampshire has more residents elected to political office than any other state. The state Legislature is the third-largest lawmaking body in the English-speaking world.



"It's our unique political culture," he said. "It's that there are more people in this state that have held public office - we're always in election mode, more people are involved. It's a unique place."



In one form or another, the ever-evolving New Hampshire primary has been in the state since 1916. It was then a group of angry farmers changed the system and earned every man a vote. For the next nine presidential elections, New Hampshire voters elected delegates who convened to choose a presidential nominee.



In 1952, the system changed and New Hampshire voters began using the system still in use today - one resident, one vote.



Although there is a state law that requires the New Hampshire primary to be the first in the nation, it wasn't always that way.



During New Hampshire's first primary in 1916, Indiana voted a week before New Hampshire and Minnesota.



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