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Big Impact!
by Charlie Keenan


Democratic Presidential hopeful retired General Wesley Clark leads a rally of supporters outside the New Hampshire State House after he officially signed up for the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, Concord, N.H., November 14, 2003. (Dan Habib/Concord Monitor/Corbis)


New Hampshire has been the first primary in presidential elections since 1920. It follows the Iowa caucuses, and it's the candidates' last chance to make a name for themselves before the presidential election cranks into high gear.

Just like in Iowa, candidates have to hold rallies, shake hands, and kiss a lot of babies in the months leading up to the big day in January. The main goal in New Hampshire is to get an edge on the other contenders by generating a "buzz" in the media. In this primary, candidates need to court the voters one at a time with a good old-fashioned grassroots campaign. Primaries are elections where the voters decide, rather than just party officials at caucuses. Once the primaries are over, the presidential campaign goes national with more focus on TV ads and less time spent on the ground.

The stakes are high. If a candidate does not emerge from New Hampshire victorious on January 27—or a close runner-up—he or she will be in trouble. That's because the media will focus on the top contenders—the ones who caught on with the voters.

"Candidates need to do well in New Hampshire and Iowa because of the agenda-setting function of the press," says Gregory Payne, a professor of political communication at Emerson College in Boston. Those states will "either sink candidates, or catapult them to a national stature."


Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean at a July 4th parade in Amherst, N.H. (John Pettitt / DeanForAmerica.com)


Still, losing in New Hampshire does not always mean the end. Bill Clinton broke the pattern by losing to Senator Paul Tsongas in 1992, then going on to win the nomination and the presidency. President Bush lost to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000. He also went on to capture the party's nomination and later the White House.

Historically, however, New Hampshire picks the eventual winner. State officials say the voters are a good sampling of the electorate, with 38 percent registered as Republicans, and 32 percent registered as Democrats.

Win or lose, candidates need positive media coverage to give them a boost for the real frenzy, which begins February 3. From February 3-10, primaries and caucuses will be held in 13 states. On Super Tuesday, March 2, most of the nation's largest states will choose candidates. On Southern Tuesday, March 9, another handful of big states will vote. As of March 9, more than half of the states will have held elections. All of the biggest states will have voted.

With such a compact schedule, the candidates need to spend more money on TV advertising. If they win in New Hampshire, they'll ride a wave of more campaign contributions, which will be critical in the months ahead. If a candidate doesn't place in the top three, he or she will likely see donors dry up. People who contribute to campaigns want to go with a winner.

Besides courting voters, candidates are out to woo the press in the early states like New Hampshire. "From a candidate's perspective, you must have a very important public relations individual who is going to cater to the needs of the press," Payne says. "He or she must try as best as possible to introduce and create a relationship between the candidate and the press."

It's time for the candidates to get down to business, bundle up, and head north to New Hampshire as soon as possible!