All eyes on `eyewash' state


New Hampshire: In 52 years, the Granite State builds a reputation for picking presidents.

January 27, 2004

"President Truman looks upon presidential preference and delegate primaries in the states as a lot of eyewash," The Sun reported Feb. 1, 1952. "He thinks they make very little impression on the delegates who meet in national party conventions and actually do the nominating; he suspects they don't mean a thing.

"For these reasons, he sees no sense in having his name entered in the various spring primary contests. Moreover, and more importantly, he figures that if he wants renomination this year he can get it without bothering with the `skirmishes' in the states."

Today is the New Hampshire primary, and while its history might have begun in 1920, when it became the first primary of the season, its transformation into today's version began in 1952, when Harry S. Truman called it so much eyewash.

That was the year that New Hampshire put the names of the candidates on the ballot rather than the names of delegates to the nominating convention. With this, the candidates began showing up in person, shaking hands and answering questions.

Not all of them showed up that first year. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in Europe, serving as NATO commander, and ran a write-in campaign. He still managed to prevail over one of the nation's most famous Republicans, Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft, to win the Republican votes in New Hampshire.

Later, Truman would say he hadn't wanted to run again anyway. His challenger, Estes Kefauver, a Democratic senator from Tennessee, campaigned relentlessly, meeting so many people that New Hampshire-ites started referring to him as the state's third senator.

Truman got 44 percent of the votes; Kefauver won the Democratic primary with 55 percent, though the primary never took him where he wanted to go. Weeks later, when Truman said he would not run for another term, Sen. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois rose to the challenge, and eventually to the nomination.

But ever since, candidates have been following Kefauver's example in New Hampshire. Wearing a coonskin cap, Kefauver knocked on doors, patted babies, threw snowballs. A Sun reporter observed at the time, a Yankee voter "don't vote for nobody who hasn't asked me."

Here's a look at some New Hampshire moments, as compiled by the records of the New Hampshire Political Library in Concord. (More details can be found at the library's Web site,

1920 - Minnesota drops its primary, Indiana changes its to May and New Hampshire becomes first in nation.

1956 - Eisenhower, seeking a second term, is not so eager to have Richard M. Nixon on his ticket. Sen. Styles Bridges and other Nixon Republican friends arrange a Nixon primary write-in, winning him 22,936 votes and a place on the ticket.

1968 - Republican Michigan Gov. George Romney, who has a summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee, makes a famous New Hampshire gaffe: He says he had been "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam War, and his campaign goes nowhere. Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy, campaigning against President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War, receives 41 percent of the vote and more delegates than Johnson, who decides not to run for re-election; in 1992, McCarthy runs again and receives only 211 votes.

1972 - Later he calls it melting snow, but tears appear to roll down his face as Maine Sen. Edmund S. Muskie stands in front of the Manchester Union Leader, complaining about an editorial and letter relating to the senator's wife that been reprinted on the front page of the paper by its publisher, William Loeb. Muskie defeats Sen. George McGovern, 46 percent to 37 percent, in the Democratic primary, but the alleged tears come back to haunt him and he loses the nomination.

1976 - Georgia's Democratic Gov. Jimmy Carter enters the primary as a total stranger. He campaigns doggedly, meeting voters across the state, defeats Sens. Morris K. Udall and Birch Bayh, and goes on to win the presidency.

1980 - Republican Ronald Reagan, running against George Bush, brings the five other uninvited candidates to what is scheduled as a Bush-Reagan, two-man debate in Nashua. When the host denies the "interlopers" the right to speak, Reagan stuns the crowd by taking command: "I paid for this microphone. ... "

1992 - President George Bush takes some shots - without lasting damage - from Patrick J. Buchanan, who mocks his earlier campaign promise, "Read my lips. No new taxes." Bush loses to Democratic Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in the general election. Clinton finds himself in deep trouble when challenged about his relationship with Gennifer Flowers, yet, as the "comeback kid," he survives the victory of favorite son Paul E. Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts. Clinton becomes the only presidential candidate to succeed to the White House without first winning the New Hampshire primary.


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