NASHUA, N.H. — New Hampshire is not Iowa.
Yes, that’s a bit of an obvious statement, but it’s not just true literally, it’s true from a presidential perspective. Voters in the first-in-the-nation caucus don’t much resemble those in the first-in-the-nation primary at all, which is why prospective candidates are largely planning to run two simultaneous yet markedly different campaigns in the two states.
So with that in mind, we asked political experts and voters here to walk us through the New Hampshire primary, to get an idea of the field on which the upcoming campaign will take place.
Libertarians, fiscal conservatives and independents
New Hampshire, like Minnesota, is a high-turnout state. Some 55-60 percent of voters will participate in the primary, which by state law must be scheduled to be the first presidential primary in the nation.
The biggest campaign event in Iowa last week was a cattle call at a mega church in Waukee sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said that, for starters, such a church doesn’t likely exist in New Hampshire. And if it did, an event of that nature wouldn’t be productive.
“Likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire are more pro-choice than the country as a whole,” said. “It’s the second least-religious state [behind neighboring Vermont], so social issues just don’t resonate here like they do elsewhere, especially in the Midwest.”
What’s more, he said, targeting most likely primary voters with a social conservative message “will actively turn them off, it’s not just inconsequential.”
That’s not to say there’s not a social conservative strain in the New Hampshire GOP, there is. It’s just far from the dominant view.
Part of that is the state’s makeup. The heart of the GOP here lies in south-central New Hampshire, in Nashua, Manchester, Bedford and the like, said Dante Scala, professor at the University of New Hampshire. A large part of the population consists of expatriates from Massachusetts, many driven out of that state in search of cheaper housing and taxes.
“New Hampshire is economically conservative — we don’t have a sales tax and we don’t have an income tax,” said Michael Dupre, a retired Republican strategist who’s now a senior research fellow at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester.
“Independents are the majority in the state,” he said. “What could be interesting in the race are the Democratic-leaning independents who can vote in the primary.”
That’s an important calculation in 2012, a year where there’s likely to be nothing interesting on the Democratic ballot, because it means Democratic-leaning independents (who might otherwise vote on the Dem ballot) will cast a vote on the GOP side instead.
The blessing and the curse of this being a small state is that it doesn’t take much to advertise on TV. WMUR, based in Manchester, is the dominant station here, with much of the rest made up by bleed-over from Boston media. What that means is that, while it doesn’t cost much to achieve media saturation, just about every candidate can afford it.
So voters won’t be going to the polls not knowing who’s in the field. Likely as not, they’ll have met multiple candidates, often more than once.
Granite State voters, like their Hawkeye counterparts, like the personal contact. The joke here, as there, is that if you wait long enough to decide, one of the candidates may come mow your lawn for you. And that means a lot of speeches to small groups, knocking on doors and town hall forums.
“I don’t think anyone can win here unless they do the traditional town halls,” said state GOP Chairman Jack Kimball.
Smith has been polling the 2012 field quarterly almost since the last election ended. Bachmann has not been listed in his polls so far, but Smith said he’s adding her to the next one. Pawlenty has been included since late 2009.
The electorate right now, he said, breaks down as follows: About 50 percent are in what he calls the Romney/Giuliani camp, 20 percent favor “Fox News candidates” like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin. Texas Rep. Ron Paul gets his share, about 5-10 percent, and the rest are up for grabs for someone else.
That having been said, just 7 percent of voters here say they’re definitely sure of who they’ll be voting for. Almost 80 percent are still trying to decide.
Looking at the top-line numbers from the last poll (through Feb. 15), Pawlenty comes in third with just 7 percent support, well behind frontrunner Mitt Romney, who garners 40 percent support. Pawlenty trails President Obama in a hypothetical race, 44-37.
But look deeper, Smith said, and you see a pattern of emerging support for the former Minnesota governor.
Pawlenty’s unfavorable numbers are basically unchanged from when Smith began polling his name in 2009. And though half the electorate still doesn’t know him well enough to form an opinion, those who have become acquainted with him in the last year and a half have almost all said they like the guy.
Contrast that with, say, Sarah Palin, whose numbers when Pawlenty joined the poll were very favorable. Now, her numbers are so underwater (more unfavorable than favorable) that her potential candidacy is drowning before it begins.
“[Pawlenty’s] campaign here is effective,” Smith said. “He’s not ticking people off.”
Pawlenty has already built a shadow campaign, currently running through his PAC, that’s basically ready to roll as a full presidential campaign the moment he throws his hat in the ring.
Most recently, he hired Concord-based strategist Rich Killion, a former top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2008 New Hampshire campaign, and someone described by Real Clear Politics as “regarded by his peers in New Hampshire as one of the top three GOP strategists in the state – if not the best.”
And he’s spending a ton of time in the state. Pawlenty’s most recent trip involved a speech before the base of the base at former Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne’s house in Manchester, a pick-up hockey game in Concord and a contentious Q&A with doctors at an Ivy League-affiliated hospital.
“He’s honing the message and seeing how the message is being received,” Dupre said. “He’s becoming presidential, and that’s what it’s about.”
While Pawlenty has been a frequent visitor to New Hampshire, both on his own and as a surrogate for John McCain before, Bachmann’s visit was her first in a political capacity.
Yet unlike in Iowa, where her simple entry into the race could impact the field like a boulder dropped in a kiddie pool, New Hampshire presents a much tougher task for the head of the House Tea Party Caucus.
In Iowa, she’s already got support from a Tea Party-affiliated state senator, who brings his own operation to the table, and she’d have to be considered a frontrunner for the support of Rep. Steve King, her closest ally in the House and one of the biggest GOP presences in the state. She starts speeches by saying she was born in the state, and talks of future campaigns by saying she looks forward to coming “home” more often.
In New Hampshire, she doesn’t really have any of that.
This was actually a smaller staff delegation Bachmann brought to New Hampshire (two) than she did to Iowa in January (four), though the numbers looked larger here because of the presence of her husband, Marcus, and three of their five biological children.
Where Pawlenty was shuttled from event to event by active, died-in-the-wool supporters, Bachmann’s helpers were state-based Republicans who said they were officially neutral. And just looking at the donor base, through the end of 2010 Bachmann had raised $27,395 from Iowans since 2006. In contrast, she’d only taken in $8,042 from New Hampshire donors.
However, in the 2010 elections, New Hampshire saw massive gains fueled by Tea Party support. Kimball himself is a Tea Party guy, who beat out a more establishment candidate for party chairman. And Bachmann, who founded the House Tea Party Caucus, is the prospective candidate most identified with the Tea Party movement.
“I don’t think she hits the ground with much at all here in New Hampshire, but the potential’s there,” Scala said.