New Hampshire Still Number One, Vegas Bets on Becoming a Bellwether

January 21, 2020 by Dan McCue
Democratic presidential candidate, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Given the massive media attention it receives every four years as home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, it’s sometimes easy to forget that New Hampshire is also a swing state.

For decades, polling has shown independent-minded New Hampshirites are nearly always evenly split on which presidential candidate to support.

In the last 10 presidential elections, New Hampshire has delivered its four electoral votes to a Republican six times and a Democrat four times, but the state is definitely trending blue.

Since 2000, the only Republican presidential candidate to win New Hampshire was George W. Bush, who beat former Vice President Al Gore by 1.27 percentage points or 7,211 votes.

Since that race, every other winner in New Hampshire has been a Democrat, with Sen. John Kerry topping Bush by 1.4 percentage points, and Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by a 0.4 percent margin.

In between and by comparison, Barack Obama almost ran away with his two contests, defeating Republican Sen. John MCCain by 9.61 percentage points and Mitt Romney, by 5.58 percent.

The thing is, New Hampshire is a fairly atypical swing state. Where candidate operations in other swing states, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, work hard to boost turnout among distinct populations of core supporters. New Hampshire is almost entirely white, well-educated, and consistently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

What this means is that for Trump, the path to victory rests with his base, while he picks off extra votes here and there.

For the Democratic nominee, victory could come down to how well they appeal to college-educated registered Republicans, a group of largely moderate voters who simply cannot contemplate another four years of this president.

As for the state’s February 11 primary, Nate Silver’s 38 election blog has Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., winning in his neighboring state, but by such a statistically insignificant amount that he could be considered in a virtual tie with former Vice President Joe Biden.

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is third and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, fourth.

But the Democrats won’t have sole possession of the media spotlight primary week. President Trump will deliver his State of the Union address the day after the Iowa caucuses and then try to garner a second night of news coverage with a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire on the eve of the primary.

Trump will not be alone on the New Hampshire primary ballot on the 11th, facing Republican competition from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois.

Traditionally, sitting presidents do not visit early primary states so close to their election dates unless they are facing a serious primary challenge.

With polls suggesting Trump is expected to win his contest by a huge margin, his presence in the state is seen as both trolling the Democrats and underscoring the state’s importance in the general election where his prospects are less certain.

Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 by 20 percentage points, securing his first-ever win in an election after coming in second in Iowa.

But nine months later in the general election, he lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton, a result that inspired his campaign manager to vow to flip the state to the Trump column in 2020.

But there are indications the effort may not be going as smoothly as either Trump or the Republican National Committee would like.

In December, the RNC axed state campaign director Eric Mitchell due to “performance” problems.

Mitchell had been named state director in mid-August, the same day Trump traveled to Manchester for one of his signature “Keep America Great” rallies.

“Basically, they’re looking for somebody who was a little bit stronger than him,” Stephen Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told Politico.

Stepanek said Trump campaign officials had grown frustrated with a lack of staff on the ground in the swing state, complaining in weekly meetings with local Republican officials that 10 staffers was insufficient at this point in the race.

Meanwhile, in Nevada …

The residents of New Hampshire are used to swarms of political candidates and scores of campaign staffers descending on their state ahead of a presidential election year.

The residents of Nevada, not so much. But that may be changing as this early nominating state is also seen as a key electoral battleground.

The state holds its primary on February 22, and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the Las Vegas Review Journal recently that he believes Nevada has become “a bellwether for the rest of the country.”

“Our unique makeup is reflective of the Democratic Party and the country,” Reid said.

Republicans will be closely watching the results of the Democratic primary, believing the outcome will determine whether the state is in play for Trump, who lost to Hillary Clinton by just 2.42 percentage points in 2016.

The GOP consensus is that if either Sanders or Warren win the Democratic primary, Trump will have a chance to sway the state’s more moderate voters despite headwinds he faces in the state.

A win by Biden, Buttigieg, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, or Sen. Amy Klobuchar would make a Trump victory more difficult, officials in the state said, speaking on background.

They are also baking on the fact Nevada’s retirement age population is growing at a rate of about 47 percent compared to the national average of about 30 percent, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Nearly one in every six residents of the state is 65 or older, a demographic that tends to vote more conservative and could provide a Trump with a boost.

It was Reid who lobbied for and engineered the move in 2008 to put Nevada behind Iowa and New Hampshire, along with South Carolina, as one of the first presidential primary and caucus states.

During his interview with the Review Journal, he praised the state Democratic party’s efforts in organizing the caucus, which will feature four days of early voting — a first for any caucus state in the country.

He also stressed this caucus will be the first true test for any Democrat seeking the presidency, as Iowa and New Hampshire simply aren’t diverse enough to give an accurate portrayal of where party voters are leaning.

Nevada Republicans opted to forego an early nominating caucus in favor of allowing the party’s central committee to vote to endorse Trump.

State GOP chairman Michael McDonald defended the decision, saying “ninety-nine percent of Republicans in this state are behind the president.”

While most observers believe Nevada will remain blue in 2020, the state GOP has suggested it expected Trump to visit several times before the general election to boost Republicans lower down on the ticket.

“The other side is only selling doom and gloom,” McDonald said. “What Democrats are doing to this man and his family is exciting his base.” 

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