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Want to know how N.H. will vote? Look to Laconia

Laconia, in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, has been a near-perfect reflection of the state’s primary vote in recent years.

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Laconia, in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, has been a near-perfect reflection of the state’s primary vote in recent years.

LACONIA, N.H. — As the world’s eyes turn to a small New England state Tuesday for the first presidential primary in the nation, experts are looking to a small city that has shown an uncanny ability to predict the results.

Since 2000, Laconia, located in the Lakes Region, has proven to be a near-perfect reflection of the statewide vote in the presidential primaries for both parties.

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Not only did Laconia pick the winners in recent New Hampshire primaries, but its results mimic the second and third place finishers for both parties statewide, according to an analysis from pollster David Paleologos. Even more telling: Laconia’s results came within five percentage points of the statewide results in every competitive primary since 2000.

It is a bellwether that rings true.

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“This time around it appears Laconia has the political DNA to crack the code of Democratic and Republican winners statewide,” said Paleologos, the director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center, which partners with the Globe on polling. “This city has managed to pass through all the filters with flying colors and either it will be wrong and disqualify itself from future bellwether consideration or it will inform us accurately of the statewide preferences early on Tuesday night.”

Laconia is most well-known for its motorcycle festival every summer, the biggest of its kind in the Northeast. Residents may not be aware of their additional distinction for prognostication, but politically savvy locals note their city is socioeconomically diverse.

The city of 16,000 people is sandwiched between Lake Winnipesaukee, home to wealthy vacationers like Mitt Romney, and Lake Winnisquam, which is better known for its blue-collar roots.

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“You have a mix of everywhere here,” said Patrick Hynes, a national Republican consultant who lives in Laconia.

The area is so diverse, he said, “that you have people who see eye-to-eye with Bernie Sanders, those who like Donald Trump, and those who see eye-to-eye with the Bush family.”

New Hampshire has only 13 cities and over 200 towns. Among the towns, Merrimack in southern New Hampshire is the most predictive, according to Paleologos, but it has a slightly less stellar record than Laconia overall.

Laconia’s bellwether status is not well known among the presidential campaigns, which did not spend a disproportionate amount of time in the area. Candidates have made nearly 1,800 stops in New Hampshire since January 2015, according to a campaign travel tracker from New England Cable News. A Globe tally of that data showed just 27 of those stops were in Laconia.

“Now you tell me that Laconia is a bellwether,” said Alan Glassman, chairman of the Belknap County Republicans, which includes Laconia. “I have been trying to get more candidates to campaign here all year and while some have done a stop or two, a lot just say they will be coming soon.”

Mo Baxley, the chairwoman of the Laconia Democrats, said she has been “begging” candidates to come to Laconia.

Senator Bernie Sanders held one of his first town hall meetings at a local inn. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton talked about the state’s opioid epidemic at the local Boys & Girls Club. And before they dropped out of the race, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley talked to voters at a downtown coffee shop and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee talked to a group of Democrats at the community college.

‘You have people who see eye-to-eye with Bernie Sanders, those who like Donald Trump, and those who see eye-to-eye with the Bush family.’

Patrick Hynes, GOP consultant 
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There is one reason why Laconia, despite its predictive capabilities, is not a draw for candidates: There aren’t as many voters in the area compared to other parts of the state.

In 2008, Belknap County made up just 5 percent of the overall statewide vote in the Republican presidential primary and 4 percent in the Democratic primary. To compare, Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, both in southern New Hampshire, represent roughly half the state’s vote combined.

That Laconia is so prophetic makes some sense to John Morin, a native who has owned My Coffee House, a small shop on Court Street, for more than seven years. He talks politics all the time with customers, keeps cable news on his shop’s television, and encourages presidential campaigns to leave fliers promoting local events.

“People in Laconia care about politics, we have good values, and we come from all walks of life,” said Morin.

So which candidates does Laconia prefer in this election? Like much of the rest of New Hampshire, voters were still making up their minds in the days before the primary. Polls are open in Laconia from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Brendan Florio, a 65-year-old who owns an auto wholesale business, is an independent who plans to pull a Republican ballot on Tuesday. In the closing days of the primary, Florio said, he had whittled his choices to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Retiree Kimon Koulet, another Laconia resident and independent voter, has seen six presidential candidates in person. He said his pick will “likely be a same-day call.”

On the Democratic side, Baxley is supporting Sanders. But she noted that at an informal gathering of Democrats Sunday night, the room was nearly evenly split between Clinton and Sanders supporters.

“Like everywhere else in the state, the race feels closer than the polls say it is,” Baxley said about recent surveys suggesting Sanders has a double-digit lead over Clinton.

And on the Republican side, Hynes, who once worked for Jeb Bush, said that he appears to be the best organized in town — but that Trump has a lot of local support.

“Laconia is a great bellwether for the state because, like the state as whole, most people I talk to are still making up their minds and anything can happen,” said Hynes.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.
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