NEW HAMPSHIRE is an American political curiosity. Its national significance has been due solely to the fact that every four years it holds the first presidential primary in the country. Candidates are made and unmade every fourth March in New Hampshire. In 1968, Eugene McCarthy's student-run campaign was successful enough to draw Robert Kennedy into the race for the Democratic nomination, which then frightened Lyndon Johnson into an early retirement. On the Republican side in the same year, front-runner George Romney's inability to generate a campaign forced his withdrawal from the race, and put Richard Nixon too far out in front to be caught. More recently, Edmund Muskie's failure to achieve a decisive victory over George McGovern in March of 1972 proved a virtual death-blow to Muskie's chances, and propelled McGovern into position as a serious candidate.
After the primary results are in, national attention generally shifts away from New Hampshire for four years. This year though, the state will be a focal point for political analysts, as its own November elections promise to be the most significant in the recent history of New Hampshire. For the first time, a breakaway from conservative politics and the election of progressive political officials is a distinct possibility. And if New Hampshire makes a move to the left, it will serve as an important signal to presidential hopefuls of both parties, since the state has traditionally been regarded as one of the last bastions of conservativism outside the Deep South.
The single most powerful political force in New Hampshire is the Manchester Union Leader, the only newspaper with a statewide circulation. The Union Leader, which is published by William Loeb and managed by B.J. McQuaid, is without a doubt the most right-wing major newspaper in America. It carries editorials signed by Loeb on the front page each day, in which he takes positions which would make Lester Maddox appear liberal. It is frequently contended that the Union Leader's political effect is only negative--that it can destroy a candidate but cannot elect one. This was, however, proven untrue in November of 1972, when Georgia-born Meldrim Thompson--a John Birch Society supporter and personal political creation of Loeb--was elected governor.
Thompson does not differ radically in philosophy from most of the other major political figures in the state. His fellow Republicans, Congressmen Louis Wyman and James Cleveland, and Senator Norris Cotton, are all hard-line conservatives. Senator Thomas McIntire, a Henry Jackson Democrat, is the most progressive of the state's political leaders.
For a variety of reasons, this entire leadership may undergo a radical transformation in November. Everyone mentioned previously with the exception of McIntire is up for re-election, although Cotton has already announced his intention to retire, and Wyman plans to become a candidate for Cotton's seat. A key cause for a possible progressive vote in New Hampshire will be the Watergate reaction, of course. Senator Barry Goldwater has estimated that Republican candidates throughout the nation will suffer a 10 per cent attrition from their normal vote as a result of Watergate. For no other state does this assessment seem more valid than New Hampshire, where the state Republican organization has been pro-Nixon down the line, and whose two congressmen have been key Nixon henchmen in the House. But Watergate is only one of several issues which endanger the conservatives' hold on the state power structure.
GOVERNOR THOMPSON, in his one year in office, has created a series of issues which appear to have alienated most of the state. He ordered the building of an oil refinery in Durham against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of the residents of the area. The refinery, which will be financed by Aristotle Onassis, has been protested by petitions and in public meetings; Thompson's advice to the protesters was to move out of the state. Durham, which is the seat of the University of New Hampshire, a favorite target of Thompson and of the Union Leader, is the center of another Thompson-created controversy -- he threatened to cut off funds to the university if homosexual student groups were permitted to hold meetings in U N H buildings. His charge was that homosexuality was morally unhealthy and constituted a danger to society. Eventually Thompson took his case to court, where he was defeated; he is now appealing the decision. The homosexuality issue gained considerable national publicity, and it has become clear that the entire controversy is more embarassing to the people of New Hampshire than anything else. What originally looked to be a perfect political issue for Thompson has apparently backfired.
Another factor which threatens the present power structure is the erosion of the strength of the Union Leader. Loeb and McQuaid committed excesses in the past year which offended even their staunchest supporters. In September they ran an editorial entitled "Is Kissinger a Kike?" which raised the question of an international Jewish conspiracy. Later in the month, they suggested that blacks be forced to emigrate to Africa, this in light of the highly-publicized Roxbury murders. Although the Union Leader will still play an important role in November, it may have seriously weakened its position.
It seems evident from public opinion polls that a total change in attitudes is sweeping the country. Americans are no longer as afraid of communism, of creeping socialism, of homosexuals, or of foreigners, as they are of the abuse of organs of government such as the FBI and the CIA, and of general ineptitude in high places. The November elections may show that this trend has reached New Hampshire, resulting in the overhaul of one of the most solidly entrenched conservative power structures in the nation.