May 31, 2007

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Publisher's Note: Still number one?
By Jody Reese

Whether we like it or not, New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary is no longer as important as it once was.

It once was possible for a relatively unknown candidate, such as a Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, to use the small market of New Hampshire to get a foothold in the national presidential race. A candidate could race around the state flipping pancakes and attending house meetings and win. This win created national attention, helping candidates raise money and mount a serious run at the nomination.

Not any more.

Large states, including New York, California and Florida, have all moved their primaries within a week or two of our voting. This means candidates have to spend time and money in these big states and that means spending more time raising money in those states — all this means less time is now being spent flipping pancakes and meeting us Granite Staters.

Then there’s the problem of absentee ballots. In those big states millions and millions of voters vote before the New Hampshire primary because absentee ballots are mailed out to voters weeks before Election Day. Candidates know this and are shifting more resources to absentee operations.

On the bad news front for New Hampshire, this means that we matter even less. If 10 million votes are cast before New Hampshire’s primary happens, the impact of New Hampshire’s choice is diminished.

If New Hampshire is to hold onto its influential role, then, it needs to make a case that spreading out the primary calendar is good for both parties. It can.

Both the Democrats and Republicans need the free publicity that comes from the primaries, but if the race is essentially over in a few weeks, the news media and voters will tune out — no more free media. This front-loading also means that many months will go by, before the convention, in which the candidate is nowhere to be seen, making the convention even less interesting than it is now. The conventions are already in danger of being pushed to C-SPAN.

New Hampshire should band together with four other small states to create a small-state primary junket that takes up the first two or three months of the primary season. These states could successfully argue that this would increase news coverage and make for a better race in that less-known candidates could afford to run, making the race more dramatic. All this would make the entire primary season more interesting and make the convention more likely to be network television.

* * *

Last week, with the death of Gerard “Monty” Montembeault, the region lost a visionary leader. The long-time owner of the Dobles auto dealerships in Manchester was not only a good businessman, but also a fine example of how long-term success in any endeavor is inevitably based on people and the community. He will be missed..