The New Hampshire presidential primary, which celebrates its centennial this year, has created some of the most memorable moments in American political history: long-shot victories, stunning defeats, secrets revealed, plans upended. We've collected 50 of the most iconic first-in-the-nation primary moments from the past 100 years — some dramatic, some important, some simply bizarre — and ranked them, first to last. Happy 100th birthday, New Hampshire primary!
Video: Globe political editor Felice Belman and reporter James Pindell debate the rankings. Watch.
1. Introduced to Jimmy Carter in 1975, Lloyd Robie, proprietor of Robie's Country Store in Hooksett, famously replies, "Jimmy who?" Months later, after a classic New Hampshire grass-roots campaign, Carter will win the '76 primary, the nomination, and the election.
2. Senator Edmund Muskie holds an emotional press conference in 1972 outside the old offices of the Union Leader in downtown Manchester, decrying the newspaper for attacks on him and his wife. Does he cry? Or is it snow melting on his face? Either way, it is the beginning of the end of his campaign.
3. In a tussle over the rules of a Nashua debate in 1980, Ronald Reagan declares, “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” His bravado dominates the news coverage — and he coasts to an easy win in the primary.
4. Amid accusations of draft-dodging and womanizing, Bill Clinton comes to Dover and gives the biggest speech of his 1992 campaign: "I'll never forget who gave me a second chance, and I'll be there for you till the last dog dies." Shortly afterward, Clinton comes in second to Paul Tsongas on election night and declares himself the Comeback Kid.
5. A crowd gathers at the secretary of state's office in 1991, waiting for New York Governor Mario Cuomo to sign up for the primary on the last day of the 1992 filing period. Cuomo's plane never leaves Albany, N.Y., and he forgoes the presidential race.
6. Running in 1968 against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, Democrat Eugene McCarthy wins a remarkable 41 percent of the vote — convincing Johnson not to run for reelection. McCarthy's secret weapon: squadrons of young supporters opposed to the Vietnam War. They cut their long hair, mustaches, and sideburns to go "Clean for Gene" when campaigning in the state.
7. In 1952, the first of the modern primary campaigns, Estes Kefauver’s Democratic win helps discourage President Harry Truman from seeking a second full term.
8. In 1984, Democrat Gary Hart enters an ax-throwing contest in Berlin and hits the bull's eye. He goes on to beat Walter Mondale in the Democratic primary.
9. Stephen A. Bullock files legislation establishing the New Hampshire presidential primary. It takes effect in 1916.
10. In 1949, New Hampshire House Speaker Richard Upton champions legislation letting voters choose presidential candidates — rather than just convention delegates — on primary day. The innovation jumpstarts the first-in-the-nation.
11. In 1975, New Hampshire approves a law requiring the presidential primary be held at least a week before any similar election.
12. Former Minnesota governor Harold E. Stassen appears on the New Hampshire ballot six times, beginning in 1948, but never wins.
13. A draft campaign for General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 results in his New Hampshire victory over Senator Robert A. Taft, shifting the Republican landscape.
14. In a 2008 Manchester debate, Barack Obama declares Hillary Clinton "likable enough." The comment falls flat. Days later, Clinton wins the New Hampshire race.
15. President Eisenhower rewards New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams for his campaign help by making him White House chief of staff in 1953. Adams eventually resigns amid scandal.
16. In an echo of the Eisenhower-Adams relationship, President George H.W. Bush makes New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu his White House chief of staff in 1989, paying him back for his primary support. Sununu resigns in 1991 under fire.
17. Ed Muskie's alleged tears may have doomed his campaign in 1972, but by 2008 the world has changed. When Hillary Clinton is famously moved to tears at Café Espresso in Portsmouth just before the primary, she generates sympathy from voters.
18. Comedian Pat Paulsen runs a parody New Hampshire campaign every four years between 1968 and 1996. "Yeah, I'm running for president again," he says in his later years. "Well, it's not a run, really; it's sort of a brisk walk."
19. When Ted Kennedy announces he'll run against incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980, TIME magazine quotes Carter's response: "If he runs, I'll whip his ass." Carter ultimately beats Kennedy despite not campaigning — his so-called Rose Garden strategy. Kennedy's challenge from the left is doomed.
20. Among the causes of Ed Muskie's anger toward the Manchester Union Leader in 1972 was the paper's publication of the infamous "Canuck letter," which implies he is bigoted against Americans of French-Canadian descent. Later, the letter is found to be part of a dirty tricks campaign orchestrated by Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President.
21. In a May 1987 press conference in New Hampshire, Gary Hart is asked a question no modern presidential candidate in America has yet confronted: "Have you ever committed adultery?" He will drop out of the Democratic primary that month but then, seven months later, drop back in. "Let's let the people decide!" he declares.
22. After he loses to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 GOP primary, a TV reporter asks Bob Dole if he has anything to say to Bush. "Tell him to stop lying about my record," Dole snarls.
23. Just before the 1996 GOP primary, Pat Buchanan riles up his troops in Nashua, ridiculing the Washington establishment: "They are in a terminal panic. They hear the shouts of the peasants from over the hill!" Days later, he will go on to win the race.
24. In 1984, Paul Newman campaigns for Walter Mondale across the state. A popular surrogate, he also makes appearances over the years for Pete McCloskey in '72 and Eugene McCarthy in '68.
25. Republican state Senator John "Happy Jack" Chandler makes a racist comment about presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1987 and is quickly let go from Republican Jack Kemp's political team.
26. Caroline Killeen, a perennial fringe candidate, makes her biggest impact in the '96 race. She runs as the "Hemp Lady," and her campaign signs include "Let Clinton Inhale," mocking the president's infamous remarks about trying marijuana but never breathing in the smoke.
27. In 1992, Patrick Buchanan jolts incumbent president George H.W. Bush, taking 40 percent of the GOP primary vote, to Bush's 58.
28. In the 1992 race, Democrat Paul Tsongas swims laps in a Speedo in an attempt to prove to voters his battle with cancer is over. He wins the primary but loses the nomination.
29. At Peterborough Town Hall, John McCain begins his 2000 presidential race, kicking off dozens of trademark town hall meetings and ultimately beating George W. Bush.
30. The primaries behind them, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama meet for a unity meeting in the tiny town of Unity, N.H., in 2008.
31. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner foils Nevada's plan to move up the date of its 2012 Republican caucuses — the latest of many such challenges to the state's first-in-the-nation status. His strategy: threatening to move the 2012 New Hampshire contest into December 2011. The state's position at the front of the line is once again secure.
32. In 1964, two young Republicans from Boston set up shop on Main Street in Concord to draft Henry Cabot Lodge into the presidential race. He wins — never stepping foot in the state.
33. George H.W. Bush steals the show at a 1988 GOP forum by pulling a small gun out of his pocket and explaining that he was troubled by the lack of "detectability" of the new weapons. His point is about gun control, but the photo of the day is the veep holding up a pistol.
34. Speaking at Concord High School in 1999, Vice President Al Gore is misquoted by national reporters covering his remarks about the Love Canal toxic waste site — an incident that plays into the narrative that Gore was prone to unwarranted boasting. The error is discovered by high school students.
35. John F. Kennedy starts his 1960 campaign at Nashua City Hall, a spot marked today with a bust of the former president.
36. In 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower wants to boot Richard Nixon as his vice president, Nixon fans in New Hampshire engineer a vice presidential write-in effort for him, assuring his place on the ticket.
37. In 1996, political newcomer Steve Forbes spends an all-time record amount of money in his New Hampshire campaign, only to end up in fourth place.
38. Republican Richard M. Nixon holds the record for having won the most New Hampshire primaries: three, in 1960, 1968, 1972.
39. In the leadup to the 2012 GOP primary, Michele Bachmann confuses Concord, N.H., with Concord, Mass. — not endearing herself to local voters.
40. In the 2000 GOP race, Gary Bauer falls off the stage at a pancake-flipping contest.
41. US Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire embarks on a quixotic campaign for president in the 2000 race. Failing to gain traction among GOP voters, he joins the Taxpayers' Party and then becomes an independent before dropping out altogether. The episode enrages the state's GOP establishment.
42. In 2004, Democrat Joe Lieberman makes clear his loyalty to the state's first-in-the-nation tradition, moving with his wife to Manchester apartment during the campaign.
43. In 1972, obscure Democratic candidate Ned Coll steals the show during a University of New Hampshire debate. Coll lofts a large rubber rat over his head during a discussion about urban issues. "This is the real problem," he says.
44.Gerald Ford beats Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP primary, but it’s a squeaker. The margin is just 1,587 votes.
45. In 1980, Illinois Congressman John B. Anderson wins nearly 10 percent of the vote against a crowded field including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He eventually leaves the party and runs unsuccessfully in November as an independent.
46. Outside a 1988 GOP debate at Dartmouth College, tennis great Arthur Ashe leads more than 250 activists in protest against the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
47. General Colin Powell receives 6,414 Republican write-in votes in the 1996 primary.
48. General Wesley Clark, the former supreme allied commander of NATO troops in Europe, enters the 2004 Democratic primary race to great acclaim (and poll numbers), but his campaign eventually fizzles.
49. After losing the 2008 Republican primary to John McCain, Mitt Romney returns victoriously in 2012, beating back an assault from more conservative rivals and cementing his standing as the front-runner.
50. Twenty-four years after his impressive New Hampshire run in 1968, Eugene McCarthy again appears on the New Hampshire ballot. This time, he receives just 211 votes.