For Candidates In N.H., It Helps To Be From A Neighboring State

In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders, a senator from next-door Vermont, has a lead in polling over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. (David Becker/AP)
In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders, a senator from next-door Vermont, has a lead in polling over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. (David Becker/AP)

Following her very narrow win in Iowa Monday, Hillary Clinton suggested that her opponent in the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders, will have a geographical advantage in the New Hampshire primary since he is from next-door Vermont.

Here’s what Clinton told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Tuesday night:

As you know, as a political expert of your many years, that New Hampshire votes for neighbors. So I have to really get out there make my case, which I intend to do this week.

So, is it true that New Hampshire typically votes for candidates from neighboring states? In short, yes. 

Since 1952, when New Hampshire’s modern primary began, there have been 16 Democratic races. Six of those included candidates from the Granite State’s three neighbors — Massachusetts, Maine or Vermont. And in those races, New Hampshire’s neighbors have won five times. And two other times candidates from neighboring states finished in second place.

Here’s the full list (primaries with neighbor candidates in bold):

  • 1952: Sen. Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee
  • 1956: Sen. Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee
  • 1960: Sen. John F. Kennedy, of Massachusetts
  • 1964: Incumbent President Lyndon Johnson (uncontested)
  • 1968: Incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. (He dropped out of the race soon after.)
  • 1972: Sen. Edmund Muskie, of Maine
  • 1976: Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia
  • 1980: Incumbent President Jimmy Carter. He beat out Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
  • 1984: Sen. Gary Hart, of Colorado
  • 1988: Gov. Michael Dukakis, of Massachusetts
  • 1992: Former Sen. Paul Tsongas, of Massachusetts
  • 1996: Incumbent President Bill Clinton (uncontested)
  • 2000: Vice President Al Gore
  • 2004: Sen. John Kerry, of Massachusetts. He beat out Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.
  • 2008: Sen. Hillary Clinton, of New York
  • 2012: Incumbent President Barack Obama (uncontested)

On the Republican side, there have been fewer candidates from states neighboring New Hampshire. There was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the New Hampshire primary in 2012. Though, Romney lost the 2008 primary to Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Before Romney, the only other example was Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, who won the New Hampshire primary as a write-in candidate in 1964.

So, with the exception of Kennedy challenging an incumbent president in 1980 and Romney in 2008, in the primaries where there was a candidate from a neighboring state, that candidate won. And so overall, it appears New Hampshire voters do tend to vote for their neighbors.

But why is that?

Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and professor at Southern New Hampshire University, says it’s because candidates from neighboring states have a shared political culture and are more familiar to voters.

“You have a built-in advantage if you’re from a neighboring state because you understand the political ethos of the area better than somebody who comes in from the outside with staff from other parts of the country,” Spiliotes said. “You literally speak their language.”

Yet, Clinton has spent a lot of time in New Hampshire over the years, when she ran against President Obama in 2008 and during former President Bill Clinton’s campaigns.

“[The Clintons have] been in the state actively for over 20 years, so by now they also know who the key players are and what the issues are and what the culture is,” Spiliotes said.

Though there is an advantage in being from a neighboring state, Spiliotes said he finds the “New Hampshire votes for neighbors” argument “a little bit less persuasive” in Clinton’s case than he would for another candidate.

But based on New Hampshire polling, the current next-door candidate, Bernie Sanders, is poised to win Tuesday’s primary.

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