Constitution Daily

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Is there a New Hampshire primary jinx in contested election years?

February 8, 2016 by Scott Bomboy


They’ll be a lot of talk in the new few days about the New Hampshire primary’s importance. But in recent campaigns, Granite State winners haven’t fared that well in November.

NH_presidential_primary_536Excluding campaigns when incumbent Presidents have run basically unopposed in New Hampshire, the winners in the first primary have struggled to win a general election for the White House.

In these contested primary elections since 1972, the GOP candidate who wins New Hampshire primary has won the White House 25 percent of the time, while the Democrat candidate wins New Hampshire primary has won the White House just 11 percent of the time.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to take a contested Democratic New Hampshire primary and win a presidential election, and in 1988, George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to win in a contested New Hampshire primary and become President the following November.

Since Carter in 1976, seven Democratic candidates have won in a contested New Hampshire primary, only to fail in a White House election bid that same year. Since Bush in 1988, five GOP winners of contested New Hampshire primaries failed to win the general election.

For the record, here is the list of the candidates who failed to win the White House since 1988 after winning in New Hampshire’s primary: Paul Tsongas and President George H.W. Bush (he was contested in New Hampshire by Pat Buchanan) in 1992; Pat Buchanan in 1996; Al Gore and John McCain in 2000; John Kerry in 2004; Hillary Clinton and John McCain in 2008; and Mitt Romney in 2012.

Two-term Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama lost in their first attempts to capture New Hampshire’s primary, but succeeded as incumbents. Three other incumbents, Gerald Ford (1976), Jimmy Carter (1980) and George H.W. Bush (1992), won in New Hampshire, but lost in November.

New Hampshire Primary Winners Since 1952



Party NomineeRepublican WinnerParty Nominee
1988DukakisDukakisBush 41Bush 41
1992TsongasB ClintonBush 41Bush 41
1996uncontestedB ClintonBuchananDole
2000GoreGoreMcCainBush 43
2004KerryKerryuncontestedBush 43
2008H. ClintonObamaMcCainMcCain
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.

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