As the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primaries draw closer, Keene State College is expecting candidates from both parties to campaign for votes on campus.
In the fall of 2014, KSC was visited by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and more recently former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), both of whom are exploring 2016 presidential bids.
Visits to KSC and other college campuses in New Hampshire are crucial for candidates, because how well they fare in the New Hampshire primaries can seriously impact their chances at the presidency.
Michael Welsh, a political science professor at KSC, said the first-in-the-nation primary seat New Hampshire holds places the state in the political spotlight.
“Candidates need to come [to New Hampshire] to score first,” Welsh said, “and scoring first is critically important in getting your name out there so people can understand your goals and know who you are.”
He also said the New Hampshire primaries are a chance for financial backers to see that they are investing their money into a viable candidate for the presidency.
Welsh said the New Hampshire primaries also give candidates a chance to have more informal, personal and realistic interactions with voters, rather than the more structured events that take place after the New Hampshire primaries.
“During the early stages, the kind of visits we see are, ‘I’m just going to sit in a room, say a few words, and then I’m going to let you guys talk and I will do my best to answer questions,’” he said.
Matt Derrickson, a political science major at KSC, said that, from a student’s perspective, the New Hampshire primaries may be more alluring than other elections because you don’t have to be registered with a specific party to vote.
“The fact that you don’t have to register with a party to vote in the primaries makes it more accessible and attractive for students,” he said, “Most voters don’t fully understand the system in which they are participating, so I think anything that makes it more accessible, especially for college students, is a plus.”
Derrickson also said that media coverage plays a huge role in the importance of the New Hampshire primaries.
“The candidates have to come to New Hampshire and be on their game for that media coverage, because the rest of the nation is going to be watching them to see what they do in New Hampshire. There’s been many presidential races that have been made or broken by the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus,” he said.
The Iowa caucus comes before the New Hampshire primary, but is a much different protocol that can produce vastly different results than those of the New Hampshire primaries.
Welsh explained, “At a caucus you meet in a room and go to different corners of the room and pledge your support to different candidates, but if your candidate doesn’t have enough support in their corner then you go to your second-favorite candidate.”
He said this system, being more complicated, may scare away the average voter and draw in political junkies.
“What you get there is the ‘tried and true’ political types,” Welsh said, “whereas in New Hampshire, you get a more broad cross-section of the state.”
Welsh said this means politicians campaigning in New Hampshire must attempt to connect with more people and make their appeal as broad as possible.
William Bendix, an assistant professor of political science at KSC, said the New Hampshire primary also holds importance because of the state’s longstanding history of fierce libertarianism and status as an “anti-tax state.”
“The selection of a winner in New Hampshire suggests that, if voters here are satisfied with the candidate, then voters elsewhere will likely be satisfied with the candidate on fiscal policy and taxes, which are both very straight-forward policy issues,” he said. Bendix said another factor that makes New Hampshire so important is the fact that is has long-been a swing state.
“New Hampshire has been trending toward the Democratic Party, but it is still willing to elect Republicans,” Bendix said, “The state is purple and less partisan than many other states, so winning here suggests the candidate will have a broader appeal.”
He said the timing of the primaries in conjunction with the “anti-tax” agenda and swing state status work together to make the New Hampshire primary important for presidential would-be’s.
As far as the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primaries are concerned, Welsh and Bendix both said the playing field is open for both parties.
Bendix said, “Primary competitions are much more unpredictable than general election outcomes, and when you have ten to fifteen possible contenders it’s much harder to make a prediction of who will win.”
He said it is important to remember that many candidates are simply running to further their political career, not seriously run for the presidency.
“Say it’s a republican administration — you may have some of the republican candidates hoping they get enough name recognition during the primary season that it encourages whoever the winner is to select them for a cabinet position or some other higher-ranking administrative position,” he said.
Welsh said for the 2016 elections both parties view the election as winnable, so Americans can expect a broad array of candidates from both parties.
“It was pretty calm four years ago because most people saw it was going to be pretty tough to beat the incumbent,” he said, “In this election, I think the republicans in particular are going to fielding a huge array of candidates, but I don’t think the democrats are going to be putting all of their efforts into Hillary [Clinton], at least not at first. We should be seeing lots of people.”
Jesse Reynolds can be contacted at keene-equinox.com