The people of New Hampshire, ever full of a bottomless pride in their state’s primary, spent Tuesday in stunned disbelief over the debacle that occurred in the Iowa caucuses the night before. And they wondered as only New Hampshire could: What does it mean for us?
What if the political industry, that collection of political operatives, journalists, candidates, and hangers on, decided that early presidential contests in small states weren’t such a good idea after all?
But what if, they preened, just what if Iowa’s chaos would make New Hampshire’s role more significant than ever — that the Granite State would truly be "first in the nation?''
It’s “almost as if there’s been the equivalent of an automobile accident,” said Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. “There’s a bit of shock, and then people are trying to figure out a way forward.”
Final results from the Iowa caucuses were not released Monday night because of reporting issues that caused widespread delays, the Iowa Democratic Party said.
As presidential candidates descended on New Hampshire Tuesday, some political operatives in the state doubled down on what they described as an unimpeachable first-primary voting apparatus. New Hampshire, in other words, will do it right.
“You’ll see virtually instant results. You’ll have definitive results. We won’t have anything like what happened last night,” said Representative Ann McLane Kuster about the state’s primary next Tuesday.
Some in New Hampshire said the state could be poised to be even more significant, because the winner of the Iowa caucus won’t benefit from the same momentum of past years, and Democrats are eager to begin winnowing the still-crowded Democratic field.
“There’s such a cloud over what went down, that New Hampshire becomes even more of a jump ball,” said Jay Surdukowski, a political and campaign finance law expert in New Hampshire. “It’s a strange accident of history, but this one is going to be one of the most important [primaries] we’ve ever had.”
New Hampshire has held the first-in-the-nation primary for a century, but the contest only took on mythological status after a little-known governor, Jimmy Carter, surged out of New Hampshire to win the Democratic nomination, and then the presidency, in 1976.
But New Hampshire’s national role in future elections may be in jeopardy. Some observers across the country argued that the debacle should mark the end of Iowa and New Hampshire’s long reign as the first-voting states.
David Yepsen, a journalist and longtime authority on the Iowa caucus, tweeted that the death knell for Iowa had indeed arrived.
“RIP caucuses,” he wrote. “And after the GOP fiasco of 2012, Iowa probably shouldn’t even try.” (Yepsen was referring to the last time the Iowa caucuses descended into chaos, during the 2012 Republican caucus, when Mitt Romney was declared the winner and went on to win New Hampshire. More than two weeks later, the state’s Republican Party declared that Rick Santorum was, in fact, the winner.)
Political observers also floated other potential first states (Michigan? Georgia?), building on recent debates about whether Iowa and New Hampshire, two overwhelmingly white states, should choose presidential candidates for the nation. All of this worried New Hampshire veterans.
“I love having the first primary here,” said Judy Reardon, a New Hampshire Democratic strategist. “I am concerned that it gives more fodder to the people who think Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn’t be going first.”
New Hampshire officials were quick to point out the differences between the two states, despite their shared role: In New Hampshire, people vote at the ballot box, while in Iowa, they caucus in a complex system; New Hampshire’s primary is run by Secretary of State Bill Gardner, like all its other elections, while in Iowa, the state Democratic and Republican parties oversee their own caucuses. And, perhaps most importantly, New Hampshire relies on paper ballots (although the majority of towns count those papers electronically, according to the Associated Press.)
‘‘The more moving parts that you have in the election process, the more room there is for something to not function right,’’ said Gardner, who’s been known to advise: “you can’t hack a pencil.”
Gardner says the state has “kept it simple” and he doesn’t expect any problems next week.
“We feel very strongly that our elections are immune to any kind of mischief. We’re very old-fashioned,” said Surdukowski. He acknowledged a friendly “rivalry” between Iowa and New Hampshire as the two early voting states, but added, “I’m not the kind of person who is going to celebrate a disaster.”
Others were concerned that the chaos in Iowa might have broader consequences, beyond New Hampshire’s prime role.
“Bigger picture, is it a concern that this was not handled well, when we have a lot of people who don’t trust what happens in elections anyway? Yes," said Rochester Mayor Caroline McCarley, a former staffer on three Democratic presidential campaigns. McCarley said that while she didn’t think New Hampshire would be too impacted by the debacle in Iowa, she could see it having an effect on disengaged voters across the country who only vote once every four years.
“It may not take much to make them say, ‘Why even bother?’" she said.
State GOP officials were reluctant to say much about the Iowa mess.
“Historically, the primary has been run very smoothly," said Chris Ager, the state’s newly elected National Republican Committeeman, who will inherit the responsibility of defending the first primary at the party’s convention this summer. “We have a great secretary of state. We just focus on our primary."
Even as the fallout from the caucuses continued to reverberate through the political establishment, many in New Hampshire remained steadfast in their belief that the country would benefit from New Hampshire’s role, and that its election results would prove its importance, once and for all.
“I think we’ll have tremendous confidence in our results," Kuster said. “We’ll show the American people why voting matters so much."