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Might New Hampshire relent on its 'first primary' status? Not a chance.

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REUTERS/Adam Hunger

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidates gather ahead of the presidential debate at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., last week. They are joined by Bloomberg reporter Julianna Goldman, debate questioner Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, and TV host and interviewer Charlie Rose.

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Don't mess with New Hampshire.

That's our advice to states jostling to move up their primaries or caucuses to have more influence on the presidential nomination process. Yes, we're looking at you Nevada, now that you've moved up your caucus to Jan. 14. Don't think you're going to horn in on the Granite State's turf. You'll notice that New Hampshire on Monday opened registration for its as-yet unscheduled first-in-the-nation primary vote.

New Hampshire really will hold that election in December to maintain its clear primacy in primaries, as it is threatening to do. If it has to it will turn back time and hold it last March.

You want to know how independent voters up there are? They once chose someone who hadn’t entered their primary, wasn’t running for president, and was working out of the country at the time. He ended up winning the general election and served two terms in the White House. That’s one reason a former governor, John Sununu, boasted in 1988 that “the people of Iowa pick corn; the people of New Hampshire pick presidents.”

The story is this: In December 1951 Dwight Eisenhower was serving in Europe as NATO’s first supreme commander. For years he’d done his best to ignore all the people begging him to enter politics. People weren’t even sure to which party his allegiance belonged.

Finally a committed “Draft Ike” partisan forced the issue. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (R) of Massachusetts entered Eisenhower in the New Hampshire primary without the latter’s authorization. In response, Ike said that yes, he’d accept the GOP nomination if it were offered. But Republicans would have to forcibly draft him – he was not going to actively campaign.

That’s the kind of flintiness they respect in the White Mountains. On March 11, 1952, the uncampaigner noncandidate Eisenhower beat the GOP front-runner of the day, conservative Sen. Howard Taft of Ohio, in a walk – 50 percent to 38 percent. “Convinced of being called to a higher duty, he announced his candidacy the next day,” says a history of the incident from the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College.

Eisenhower’s subsequent presidency indirectly produced a New Hampshire primary record. Only one person has won the Granite State contest three times – Ike’s old Vice President Richard Nixon, who triumphed there in 1960, 1968, and 1972.


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