Since when is "first-in-the-nation" N.H. a runner-up?
This month former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will visit Iowa and speak to movers and shakers. It's his second trip there since winning the Iowa Caucuses as a presidential candidate last year. He isn't the only one visiting Iowa lately. Joining him are other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Senators John Ensign and John Thune and former New York Governor George Pataki.
Their trips to Iowa are notable for where they aren't coming: New Hampshire. The Granite State's reputation for all politics all the time might be too much for some residents, but it is deeply rooted in the state's identity.
So it's getting uncomfortable that no potential 2012 candidate has visited the state yet. Sure, President Obama has just started, there is a global recession and two wars, but New Hampshire is supposed to be the place where ambitions and new ideas are tested no matter the circumstance.
True, our first-in-the-nation presidential primary was becoming a caricature of itself. Anyone with fantasies of living in the White House, however horribly misplaced, were told to visit us "early and often." Every four years the process started earlier and visits more frequent.
The "early and often" mantra reached its zenith during our last primary. Only two weeks after President George W. Bush was re-elected Sen. John McCain came to Manchester. By the end of June 2005 there were already 16 visits by potential presidential candidates. During the same period four years later, at the end of June 2009, there are none.
Concord, we have a problem.
County Republican chairs tell me they have been inviting these potential candidates to their big annual dinners and no one is accepting. There are three reasons why.
First, the general mood is not conducive to ambitious politicians. A global recession is weighing on the minds of voters and they have been willing to give President Obama a shot, and the majority aren't interested in criticism. Even if Congressional Republicans have no problem rejecting Obama's agenda it is different to propose a comprehensive plan for what you would do differently.
Second, while this mood exists in Iowa, they have no "excuse" to visit us. These candidates need the ability to save face if they eventually decide against a run. They prefer trips with the excuse of helping a local candidate or accepting some local award. We have not had those opportunities so any visit would appear to be presumptuous.
Third, there is a shift in how one begins a presidential campaign. President Obama won the presidency with the largest campaign chest in American history. In 2008, presidential candidates needed to raise $90 million to be taken seriously. Given that President Obama raised $745 million during the last campaign the fundraising threshold got significantly higher. Instead of courting New Hampshire activists early any candidate must spend time courting donors early and often.
Rest assured that even if candidates aren't showing up now they will eventually. For the first time ever Republicans have preserved New Hampshire's first primary status into the party rules. And President Obama has told his party that he wants the Granite State first.
So to candidates: still come early and often, even if it is a little later. NH
This article appears in the June 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine