When It Comes To The N.H. Primary, It Often Helps To Be Neighborly

Nov 24, 2019

With the late entrance of former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick into the 2020 presidential race, there are now four candidates from neighboring states campaigning in New Hampshire. In addition to Patrick, that list includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR’s Senior Political Reporter Josh about the track record of candidates from next door in the New Hampshire primary.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So we've got four candidates from next door states, three Democrats and a Republican, running in the primary. This is not an unusual phenomenon?

I mean, this is more populated by neighbors than any previous primary, but it's not unusual for candidates from neighboring states to run here, and certainly not unusual for candidates from neighboring states to do well here. If you go back to 1972, Maine Sen. Ed Muskie won the primary. In 1988, Democrat Mike Dukakis won the primary. In 1992, Paul Tsongas, senator from Massachusetts, won the primary. In 2004, John Kerry, senator from Massachusetts, won the primary. Vermont Governor Howard Dean came in second that year. Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, came in second in the 2008 and won it in 2012 on the Republican side. And, of course, Bernie Sanders won big in 2016. And if you look at the numbers, "major" candidates from next-door states, when they have run, have won two thirds of the time and never done worse than second. So there's a track record.

(Transcript continues below graphic.)

Candidates from neighboring states have run with some regularity in the N.H. Presidential Primary since the early 1970s. They tend to have a strong finish here.
Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

Yeah, big history here. How does being from a neighboring state help a candidate here, though?

Well, some of it is familiarity. A lot of times candidates from neighboring states would have established political relationships with colleagues in New Hampshire. There's access, both physical access. You know, when Howard Dean first picked up steam back in 2004, a lot of it was just hopping in the car and driving down from Burlington.

There's also the overlapping media markets. A lot of times particular politicians from Massachusetts would have been, you know, piped into New Hampshire via TV. There's also a population churn, particularly between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where a lot of times you could have had somebody who would have been voting for a politician in Massachusetts. Then have the opportunity vote for them in New Hampshire when they're running for president.

Of course, just being from next door isn't everything.

Absolutely not. I mean, you know, Seth Moulton came and went in this race without anyone really noticing. And, you know, in terms of the top tier candidates this year, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are really national figures within the party. And if you look back at the history of the primary, people like Mike Dukakis, John Kerry, Mitt Romney on the Republican side, those are all plausible leading candidates, irrespective of geography, while being a neighbor probably helped them marginally.

Well, Josh, do you see any specific advantage to the neighbors that are here campaigning in the Granite State this time around?

Well, one advantage that Bernie Sanders has is a network of people who supported him four years ago when he won the Democratic primary here. A lot of those people remain fully invested in him becoming president. You know, Elizabeth Warren is somebody who lives in Cambridge and has dipped up here to help local Democrats, people like Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. For several years, she's been eyeing looking at the presidency in her proximity. You know, clearly it's helpful to her.

We haven't talked about the Republican side. You know, Bill Weld is kind of an interesting figure in that there are a lot of Republicans here who may not be inclined to support President Trump, who are predisposed to like somebody like Bill Weld. In some ways, he represents kind of a regional brand of Republicanism that is kind of really on the wane nationally and really here in New Hampshire, too, but kind of a Yankee Republicanism -- socially moderate, fiscally conservative. He will tell you that he's going to capitalize on that. You know, we'll see.