Harris would be Smart to Skip NH Primary

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

New Englanders tend to win the New Hampshire primary and with two well-known New England senators probably in the presidential race, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, California’s Kamala Harris would have an uphill battle there in her quest for the Democratic nomination.

There is always the chance that Sanders and Warren could split up the vote of their fellow New Englanders giving an opening for Harris. That would especially be true if Harris scores well in the Iowa caucuses.

However, reports are that Harris intends to skip or de-emphasize the New Hampshire primary and focus on South Carolina, where she is reported to be building strength. The plan then is to focus on the west to scoop up what she hopes will be a boatload of delegates in her home state of California and the neighboring state of Nevada.

History shows this strategy is well-founded.

On the Democratic side, Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy throttled opposition in New Hampshire in 1960 gaining 85% of the vote. It should be noted, however, that the primary system in 1960 did not mirror today’s reality. Many of the other Democratic candidates did not bother to contest the NH primary. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, who would eventually end up on the ticket with Kennedy, did not contest any primary that election but was established well with the party insiders and gained many delegates for the convention.

Jimmy Carter did best JFK’s brother, Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, by 10% in 1980 in New Hampshire, but Carter was running as an incumbent and Kennedy got off to a disastrous start in his campaign by muffing his answer on why he wanted to be president in his first campaign interview with CBS reporter Roger Mudd.

Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis swept to a first place finish in 1988 and Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas topped Arkansas governor Bill Clinton by 9% in 1992. Another Massachusetts senator, John Kerry, began his run for the 2004 Democratic nomination by beating a large field, which included former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, who finished second.

Another Vermonter, Bernie Sanders, crushed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 22% in 2016.

While there are not as many examples on the Republican side, still there were instances in which the New England connection helped boost the primary effort of a couple of candidates.

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a former Massachusetts senator and vice-presidential candidate for Richard Nixon in 1960 topped both Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the eventual nominee, and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1964.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney easily lead a field of six candidates in 2012.

The Massachusetts politicians benefit because most of New Hampshire falls within range of the Boston television market. New Hampshire voters probably hear more about and from those Massachusetts politicians than they do of New Hampshire elected officials.

Considering the history of New Englanders success in the first-in-the-nation primary and that a couple of New Englanders will be in the race, it is probably a good move for Harris to skip the winter in New Hampshire as long as she clearly declares her reason for doing so.

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