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January 03, 2012 11:16 AM No, You Can’t Skip New Hampshire Either

By Jonathan Bernstein

Rick Perry is apparently telling reporters that he’ll skip New Hampshire and make a last stand in South Carolina.

Two things. First, presidential candidates always say that they’re going to stay in the race no matter what. Everyone should ignore those claims; they are necessary to make (more or less), but they aren’t binding. Unless Perry finishes a strong fourth or better, I expect him to end his campaign. There’s a certain amount of individual preference on these types of decisions (that is, about ending campaigns), but not all that much…it wouldn’t be shocking if Perry insisted on getting clobbered in South Carolina, but it’s not very likely. Assuming, that is, that he doesn’t wind up doing better than the polling predicts.

Unless of course he does better than current polling shows in Iowa. Which is still possible, although less and less likely.

The second thing is that skipping New Hampshire is as much of an implausible strategy as skipping Iowa. Neither make any sense. That doesn’t mean candidates have to go all-in on these early states, but they really do have to compete there.

The Santorum/Huntsman situation is a good example of that. Santorum may or may not wind up coming close to the nomination, but if he finishes in the top three in Iowa (as currently looks very likely), he’s going to get a bump elsewhere. What about Huntsman, however? He’s totally off the radar this week. He’s been totally off the radar for the last month. He won’t get a mention tomorrow night when TV and the rest of the press cover Iowa. He’s unlikely to be subject to very much media attention over the next few days, either. And so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if someone who has done little in New Hampshire so far overtakes him with a post-Iowa surge.

Consider what would be happening if Huntsman had focused on Iowa and Santorum skipped it and gone to New Hampshire. We’ll never know whether Huntsman would have rallied, but certainly Santorum would not have. You just can’t skip the key early states if you want to have any hope of being the nominee.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

Comments

  • Matt on January 03, 2012 1:51 PM:

    I'm not sure you could never skip Iowa or NH, although I certainly agree that Rick Perry is not and could never be in a position to do so.

    If things had developed just a little differently, there might have been nobody contesting NH, given that Romney is a quasi-resident and was governor of the state next door. The same thing can happen with Iowa in any given year (remember President Harkin?).

    So, I could imagine a kind of Republican who was viable in the general election as a technocrat/finance whiz but who had no culture-war bona fides and no talent for pretending otherwise. (Yes, I know there's no such Republican in existence at the moment, but it used to be theoretically possible.) That candidate would probably want to skip as many early states as possible, and might benefit from running against the early states. If you made it the leitmotif of your campaign--"screw the beauty pageants, I'm in this thing for the long haul"--it might be a viable or at least plausible strategy.

  • low-tech cyclist on January 06, 2012 10:41 AM:

    In 1992, as Matt obliquely notes above, Bill Clinton (and the rest of the Dem field, minus Harkin) skipped Iowa. Anyone recall how that turned out?

    (Incidentally, that's the only instance from 1976 to 2008 of a candidate winning a major-party nomination without winning at least one of Iowa or New Hampshire. Because the entire field, excepting favorite son Tom Harkin, skipped Iowa, I'd say it's an exception that doesn't disprove the rule that you need to win either Iowa or NH to win the nomination of either major party.)

    I really don't see why a Republican can't skip NH and hope to win the GOP nomination. While NH may be a swing state in November, it's very much at one extreme with respect to the GOP primary electorate, being far less concerned with social issues than GOP voters in most states are.

    There's really no reason a candidate can't be the choice of a solid majority of GOP voters and still do terribly in NH. And if you know you're going to do terribly in NH, why waste your time there? Why not go directly to SC, as Perry is doing?

    I've contended for four years that this is where Huckabee blew it in 2008: by wasting his time campaigning in NH, rather than moving directly to SC with maybe a side trip to Michigan. Maybe he could have won SC if he'd spent an extra week there.