Democratic and Republican party presidential candidates have spread money, staff, and themselves all over New Hampshire, but little is certain in this state with the first primary and the distinction of thinning-out the pack and possibly selecting the next president.
Although primary day, February 16, is still several months away, New Hampshire has become known as "Duke territory" among Democrats because of its strong support for three-term Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Many political and campaign analysts consider the New Hampshire vote a giveaway for the governor.
Dukakis has garnered the support of many New Hampshire voters because of his proximity to the state, his frequent visits and his opposition to the controversial Seabrook nuclear power plant.
But popularity also has a downside. "Primaries politics are based on expectation and perception," said Boston political consultant Michael Goldman. "Dukakis can win with 43 percent of the vote and still be considered the loser because he should have won 50 percent of the vote."
The significance of the Democratic primary will be based not only on actual percentages, but on the public and media interpretions of the numbers. Unfortunately for the "Duke," the candidate who wins by the largest margin will not necessarily be called the winner. A strong second place finish could make a campaign for a Democratic contender.
Most of the presidential hopefuls have taken advantage of this New Hampshire paradox by devoting time and resources to building grassroots support and making personal appearances in the state.
According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports, candidates from both parties have raised a total of $70 million through September 30, and spent $55 million, much of which was allocated to New Hampshire.
"New Hampshire voters are a very sophisticated group who expect individual contact with the candidate," said Dukakis's N.H. Deputy Campaign Manager Richard Sigel, adding that Dukakis has the most campaign headquarters in the state and has allocated more than $61,000 to the N.H. effort.
"New Hampshire is different from other states in many aspects because of the intensity of the media attention," said Vice President George Bush's Northeast Political Director Ronald C. Kaufman. "We were gearing up much earlier in N.H." will do very well in N.H., but Sigel pointed out that N.H. "has not always been good to its neighbors," referring to Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Ma.) 1980 and Edward Muskie's 1972 defeats in the state.
Voters in the "Granite State" are hardly solid and their eclectic decisions can often determine the future of the presidential race. In 1984 Sen. Gary Hart (D.-Col.) campaigned heavily in N.H. and went from a dismal performance in the lowa caucus a week earlier to win the nation's first primary and become a leading Democratic candidate.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has spent the least money in N.H. among the candidates, about $3000, has based his N.H. campaign primarily on grassroots support. Campaign officials said they are not looking for a 51 percent win. "The point is proving your ability to address the issues and keeping an informed and sophisticated electorate on your side," said Jackson's N.H. Press Secretary Joseph T. Liu.
Liu said Jackson is coming in second place in many N.H. polls, and "if we can have a solid showing, it will prove we can play in a state without many Blacks or unemployed voters, and we are addressing the problems the people want to hear."
Among the other Democrats vying for the second-place finish is Rep. Richard Gephardt (D.-Mo.). The six-term congressman has spent more than $96,000 in the state and has canvassed there more than 100 times.
Gephardt campaign officials said they are not disheartened by the Duke's strength in the region. While he agreeed that N.H. was a key primary state, N.H. Student Coordinator Mark Fusaris said, "We're running a national camapign, not just one in N.H. and lowa."
Campaign officials for Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) '69 boast that they have the largest paid N.H. staff and have invested more than $66,000 there. Gore has much to lose or gain in the early primaries as he has made an active effort to separate himself from his colleagues by vocally attacking traditional party positions. A strong showing in New Hampshire may indicate voters are ready for his critique while a weak finish would end his gamble.