How to Get Votes in New Hampshire—A Personal Story

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

Thirty years ago, when I was campaigning for a seat in the 400-member New Hampshire House (yes, 400 members), I spent my weekends at the Sanbornton Town Landfill engaging voters. Since my Lakes Region town with its 2900 residents had no street garbage collection, it was the one place that everyone in town showed up in their Ford 150’s on Saturday mornings. What better place to politic, particularly when my campaign budget totaled $300?

To this day, I’m convinced my master strategy of political dump diving is what got me elected, the first member of my political party to represent the town in 100+ years. But don’t tell my Mom. She insists that her haranguing voters as they entered the white clapboard Town Hall that was built in 1834 was the key to my electoral success.

I like to tell this story because, in a way, it’s what the New Hampshire primary is all about, even three decades later.

To win in the Granite State, you need to connect with voters in a way no other state can replicate. This goes for those running for the New Hampshire House — or President of the United States.

All those stories you’re reading about the importance of voter contact? They’re not myths. Friends in the capital city of Concord told me that yesterday on three successive blocks on Main Street (yes, Main Street), there were campaigners for Kasich, Sanders, as well as a gaggle of volunteers holding “Honk if You Like Trump” signs.

Targeted digital advertising strategies may be gaining popularity in many states, but having a strong ground game still matters here. No small burg goes untouched during a presidential primary. During the 1992 campaign, I had supporters for both Tom Harkin and Paul Tsongas stay in my house – at the same time. That still happens, as does block-by-block canvassing of voters (albeit with iPads this year).

If, God forbid, a voter tell one of the five door knockers or phone callers you hear from each day that they are undecided, it guarantees an avalanche of more contact. Sometimes its directly from surrogates or candidates themselves.

During the 1984 campaign of Gary Hart, my home phone was being used by his wife to dial undecided voters. The Governor of Michigan showed up in my living room to talk to a group of activists for Bill Clinton. The state’s public radio station was stationed in my den to listen to comments of my neighbors watching a debate.

I also remember working out of the (Bill) Clinton headquarters in Manchester during the home stretch of the 1992 primary. We were overwhelmed with volunteers shipped in from Arkansas, so we sent them to the street corner outside of the (Bob) Kerrey headquarters a couple blocks away. The Kerrey forces then emptied their offices to counter ours – exactly what we wanted to happen. Why? Because we wanted their volunteers to abandon their GOTV calls to try to drown out for feisty sign-waving backers.

One note about this year’s election: The Granite State has had two solid weeks of relatively warm (for New Hampshire) weather. That should give an edge to campaigns that have these large armies of volunteers.

Being from the state next door, Bernie Sanders has a key advantage in this department, much like Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas had in his win over Bill Clinton in the 1992 primary (though Clinton declared victory as the “Comeback Kid” based on the perception that most pundits though his campaign was finished after he was pummeled by attacks about sex scandals). Key Democratic strongholds are just an hour or two from the Vermont border.

That doesn’t mean Sanders has a lock on the state. He will need to run up the numbers in the more liberal bastions of the state clustered near the Vermont border and on the Seacoast to offset the more moderate Democrats in the state’s largest city of Manchester and the communities along the Massachusetts border.

Another wild card: since the GOP contest seems to be more up in the air, independent voters eligible to vote in either primary may end up casting their ballots for a Republican – thinking it will make more of a difference — than for Sanders, who has leads of 10 to 20 points in most recent polls.

On the Republican side, it’s about as different as you can get from Iowa’s electorate. Evangelicals are a fraction of the vote. More important is the conservatism fueled by residents that have fled from “Taxachusetts.”

But there’s also a “Live Free or Die” tinge among these voters, particularly on social issues. That’s probably why the combined Kasich/Christie/Bush vote will likely overpower the Cruz/Rubio vote.

The big question, of course, is how Donald Trump will fare. Will celebrity prevail over voter contact that’s been the hallmark of the New Hampshire primary for so long?

We’ll know Tuesday night. If Trump wins, the big loser may well be the New Hampshire primary.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.