Jan 13, 2015 7:51 PM

Paul Steinhauser: Centennial celebration of Granite State primary about to kick off

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

CONCORD - Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary.

And next month NH1 and WBIN-TV will team up with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Bloomberg Politics, and the Newseum, for an event in Washington DC that will kick off the centennial celebration of the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary.

"The New Hampshire primary is the most compelling story and venue in American president politics. On February 11 we're going to tell this story with the rich color and historical imperative it so deserves. Three cheers for the Granite State primary" Al Hunt, former executive editor of Bloomberg News, told NH1.

"The thing that makes New Hampshire different is that the people here really matter and hand to hand campaigning directly with voters makes a big difference. It's not money here in New Hampshire that makes a difference, it's people," said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

Veteran Granite State GOP consultant Tom Rath, a former state attorney general, will speak on a panel at the February 11th event at the Newseum.

"I've always said about the New Hampshire primary, it's not so much what it does even for New Hampshire, it's what it does for the person who becomes president. I believe the person who becomes president, who has endured and survived and learned from the New Hampshire primary process, is a better president because of that process," said Rath, who served as a senior adviser to the presidential campaigns of Howard Baker, Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

The first New Hampshire primary was held in 1916, thanks in part to Stephen Bullock.

"He was a state representative from Richmond, New Hampshire. He was a farmer, and he sponsored the ‘The Bullock Act', which in 1913 passed and was signed into law by Gov. Samuel Felker. Bullock basically produced a bill that would have direct election by New Hampshire voters of who they wanted in their primaries to run for president. It was really a progressive issue at the time," Levesque said.

Levesque gave us a trip down memory lane. Pointing to a photograph of then-Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter from the 1976 primary, Levesque said "the reason we like this picture of Jimmy Carter is that it showed him carrying his own suitcases and he wanted to show New Hampshire that he was his own person. This is post-Watergate, when you wanted to be a humble peanut farmer from Georgia. Remember that Jimmy Carter started out at two percent in the polls and ended up winning the New Hampshire primary. Interestingly his campaign manager was a young Jeanne Shaheen at the time, who is now our US Senator."

Four years later, Ronald Reagan was battling George H.W. Bush and others for the GOP nomination. The two faced off at a now famous debate in New Hampshire.

"This is one of the actual playbills from the 1980 famous Reagan debate where he said ‘I paid for this microphone Mr. Green.' He got the name wrong. It was Jon Breen from the Nashua Telegraph that he was speaking to, but he had the perfect amount of sort of toughness in his conversation that night and it really swayed voters towards him," Levesque said.

Next up, Levesque pointed to a photo of then-Sen. Gary Hart.

"This is Gary Hart and he is at the lobster pool in Seabrook holding up a lobster. Remember he was the candidate that was not supposed to win in 1984 against former Vice President Walter Mondale. He ended up winning the Democratic primary in New Hampshire in 1984, and again his campaign manager was a young Jeanne Shaheen."

Republican Sen. John McCain won New Hampshire primary in 2000 and again in 2008.

"This is a picture of John McCain with Richard Petty and Curt Schilling at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway up in Loudon. He campaigned here in New Hampshire very effectively by going directly to the people. He had over 100 town hall meetings and he was a great favorite and won the New Hampshire primary twice and made a lot of friends here in New Hampshire," Levesque added.

The New Hampshire primary has long been at the center of the political universe. And with the possibility of some major names like Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen.Rand Paul of Kentucky, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and others, jumping into the race for the White House, the Granite State primary will continue to be right smack in the middle of things.


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