New Hampshire's unofficial political motto, "Always First, Always Right," is only partly correct. The New Hampshire presidential primary has been the first in the nation since long before primaries began to matter in 1952. Every post-'52 president except Bill Clinton won his primary there; five defeated Democratic nominees and one Republican did not win in New Hampshire in those Februarys.
So the state's primary has been a very good political barometer if not a perfect one.
That is why nine Republicans who say they want to be president spoke in New Hampshire recently. Most have no chance, but the appeal of New Hampshire has always been clear: It is a small state in which a relatively unknown and modestly funded candidate of energy can win and then attract the campaign money needed to continue.
No longer. The leisurely progression of primaries after New Hampshire, with ample time to raise money, came to an end in 1988, when 16 states, including Florida and Texas, scheduled primaries on the same day, a mere three weeks after New Hampshire's first in the nation. A candidate who wanted to compete after New Hampshire had to have a lot of cash in the bank and television time reserved and paid for before New Hampshire.
The same held true in 1992. Next year it will be even truer. More big states have moved or plan to move to early primaries. California is moving from June to late March. Ohio is moving from June to mid-March. Pennsylvania is expected to move from late April to mid-March. New York is moving from early April to very early March. Those are expensive states in which to run.
These changes explain why bona fide candidates (more or less) Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have been organizing, speaking and raising and spending money so early. It also explains why a candidate like Senator Gramm -- not well known beyond Texas and not an attractive candidate to many who do know him, but a good fund-raiser -- could become Senator Dole's principal opponent.
Choosing so many delegates so early is called "front loading." Some political experts speculate that a Republican nominee will have been decided upon even before California votes on March 26. If that doesn't happen, look for Pete Wilson, who as governor of the largest, richest state has the ability to raise a lot of money fast, to become a major contender, even if he doesn't (though he still might) run in New Hampshire.