Nearly a week after the First in the Nation presidential primary, the debate continues about who was the real winner. Did Nikki Haley get a bigger burst of momentum from her second-place finish than Donald Trump did from his victory? Why did a third of the incumbent president’s own party vote for someone else?
But there is no doubt who the true hero of the New Hampshire primary was.
You. The voters of the Granite State.
Many people find it annoying when Time Magazine gives the “Person of the Year” to some group like “The Whistle Blowers” (2002), or “The Protesters” (2011), or “You” (2006. Something about the interwebs.)
But having watched the New Hampshire primary from the night of Trump’s uninspired and off-putting campaign launch from Mar-a-Lago in November 2022 through Trump’s off-putting and unnecessarily contentious ‘victory’ speech last Tuesday, it’s clear the one group of people who did their job and did it well was the voters.
When Haley showed up in Exeter last February for the first campaign event of the 2024 cycle, there was a standing-room-only crowd at Exeter Town Hall. That was nearly a year ago when Haley was polling at “I vaguely recognize the name” levels. Asked why they were there, one retired couple told NHJournal, “We always come every primary.” It had nothing to do with Nikki Haley. It was about them. They wanted to see the candidates for themselves.
For the next 11 months, NHJournal heard the same story in varying forms. From the first Ron DeSantis event at the Doubletree Armory, a huge GOP fundraising dinner where anti-Israel Jews (who knew?) stormed the stage, to Chris Christie’s final event, where a hot-mic moment from backstage made the headlines. From the small crowds at local diners to the throngs who showed up at Scott Brown’s No B.S. Barbecues, the voters came.
For candidates from Asa Hutchinson to RFK Jr., they came just the same.
When Dean Phillips had an outdoor event in the bitter cold on the streets of Manchester, and nobody showed up, it made the news. (“Sometimes, if you build it, they don’t come,” was his self-deprecating response).
But how many people knew that the weekend before the primary, he had some 150 people pack a Concord cafe? Or that one of the common complaints about Haley’s events the final week was that her venues were too small, that more people were showing up than the sites could handle? Including one that involved a complaint to the fire marshall about room capacity?
Why did those people keep coming? They wanted to see, and they wanted to be heard.
On Election Day, they were.
Not about who was going to win or lose. That was a foregone conclusion in both primaries. And yet, about 450,000 people showed up to cast their votes.
On the GOP side, the polling and punditry all pointed to a Trump win. And an 11-point win isn’t exactly a nail-biter. But 322,000 stood in line at their local high schools to have their say.
On the Democratic side, who the heck was going to schlep to the polls to cast a vote for some guy from Minnesota nobody had ever heard of?
More than 24,000 people, it turns out. To put that in perspective, that’s close to half the total vote Trump got in his big win in Iowa — a state with twice New Hampshire’s population.
New Hampshire voters take their job as custodians of the first primary very seriously. They know the rest of the nation is listening, and so they speak out.
On Trump, they said, “He’s got the base, but the rest of the voters aren’t on board. He’s got a problem.”
On Biden, they said, “He’s the incumbent president, and still 44,000 of his fellow Democrats took time out of their day to show up and vote against him. To put that in perspective, only 20,000 people voted against Trump in the 2020 primary, compared to the 130,000 who turned out in a no-competition (sorry, Bill Weld) primary.
And on the First in the Nation primary, they said very loudly: We’re not going anywhere. The only thing the DNC is going to accomplish with its “you’re too White” attacks is to drive away even more White, working-class voters. We’re not budging.
Haley likely doesn’t have a path toward the nomination, but her argument about Trump’s weakness as a general election candidate is getting another hearing. Thanks to New Hampshire’s voters.
Joe Biden isn’t likely to be replaced as the nominee despite his physical infirmity and low popularity. But Democrats can’t say the Granite State didn’t try to warn them.
That’s the power of the First in the Nation primary. It lets the voters speak out. Getting the political elites to actually listen is somebody else’s job.