"Granite Staters are tough but fair with those who would be President.  Toward the end of the race, when the temperature gets colder and the campaigning gets hotter, it takes dedication to survive.  Here is democracy at its best, for it takes more than a big bankroll or name recognition to impress us." --Nackey Loeb


State of New Hampshire Revised Statutes, TITLE LXIII, Chapter 653 +

653:9 Presidential Primary Election. – The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a Tuesday selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous...

The premise and the promise of New Hampshire's first in the nation primary is that it allows even little-known, underfunded candidates to have a chance at winning the White House.  By engaging in grassroots politics, visiting ordinary citizens in their living rooms and meeting them in diners, a candidate can gain favorable notice, attract support of activists, do well in the primary, and thereby gain momentum going into the rest of the nominating process.  Long-serving Secretary of State Bill Gardner points out that not only do New Hampshire citizens have great opportunities to learn about the candidates, but the candidates themselves learn a lot by going through the process (+).  Critics argue that New Hampshire is not representative and should not be granted a privileged position, but the state has repeatedly fended off challenges to its first-in-the-nation status.

New Hampshire has a strong grassroots democratic tradition.  The General Court, New Hampshire's "citizen legislature," consists of the 400-member House and 24-member Senate.  The House is the largest state legislative body in the United States.  (Legislators receive a salary of $200 per biennium).  Many citizens also serve in local government or at least have the experience of participating in the local town hall meetings.

Each cycle there are a few candidates who choose to focus on the New Hampshire primary over the Iowa caucuses, viewing it as providing a "level playing field" which does not require as much resources as Iowa and the caucus system.  Additionally, because it is relatively easy to get on the New Hampshire presidential primary ballot, many lesser known or fringe candidates run, adding color to the spectacle.  

The modern New Hampshire primary dates to 1952.  Over the decades, the New Hampshire primary has produced many memorable scenes, and each succeeding primary reinforces the proud tradition.  The primary and all the comings and goings also provide a tremendous economic boost to the state.

Dynamics of the Races

In the year leading up to the February 3 primary, twenty-three declared major Democratic presidential candidates established a presence in New Hampshire, but as the months progressed the field narrowed, and by the time it came to filing delegate slates only 11 remained.  The Democratic race appeared to be an open and fluid contest throughout 2019 and into 2020.  Several  candidates started out with a bit of an advantage.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), from neighboring Vermont, built a winning campaign for the 2015-16 primary.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren, from neighboring Massachusetts, was also expected do well from the outset.  On the Republican side, President Trump was the prohibitive favorite to win the primary; his strongest challenger, former Gov. Bill Weld, gained little traction.

Early Groundwork (Pre-Campaign Period, 2017-18)

Early entrants Congressman John Delaney and entrepreneur Andrew Yang were the first declared candidates to trek to New Hampshire, but many other potential candidates made the trip in 2017-18.  (In 2013-14, by contrast, the large pool of Republican prospects led to much activity on the Republican side).  In addition to helping local party committees and candidates, potential candidates use these visits to connect with activists and potential supporters.

New Hampshire is fairly evenly split politically (registration for Nov. 6, 2018 was 307,354 Republicans, 284,172 Democrats, 415,908 Undeclared and 1,548 Libertarian for a total of 1,008,982).  A total of 580,214 votes were counted in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election.  (By comparison, four years earlier, a total of 495,453 votes were counted).  Although Gov. Chris Sununu (R) won a second term, New Hampshire Democrats achieved much success in the 2018 midterms, touting "historic 'firsts' and record-breaking performances up and down the ticket (+)."

• Gov. Sununu defeated former state Sen. Molly Kelly (D) by 52.8% to 45.7% to win a second term (+).  Democrats also won a majority on the Executive Council.

• Democrats kept both U.S. House seats.  The 1st CD, which includes Manchester, was open due to U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D)'s retirement.  Chris Pappas (D) defeated Eddie Edwards (R) by 53.56% to 45.01%.  In the 2nd CD, which includes Nashua, Concord and the whole western and northern part of the state, U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D) won re-election, defeating Steve Negron (R) by 55.54% to 42.18%. 

• In the state Senate all 24 seats were up.  Democrats flipped the chamber, taking the balance from 14R, 10D to 14D, 10R (>).

• In the House of Representatives all 400 seats were up.  Democrats flipped the chamber, taking the balance from 212R, 167D, 2L and 19v to 233D, 167R (>).

Potential presidential candidates helped out in these races as well as with party events.  In 2019 there were elections for mayor in cities around the state; although these were nonpartisan and generally did not intersect with the presidential primary, in Manchester incumbent Joyce Craig, a Democrat, defeated Victoria Sullivan, a Republican.

Primary Date is February 11

New Hampshire's first status is enshrined in state law, and long-serving New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has demonstrated time and again he will not budge when it comes to protecting the first status, including the seven-day cushion.  He holds off on making an announcement of the primary date until he is confident that its position will not be usurped.  While DNC rules specify Feb. 11, 2020 as the earliest date of the New Hampshire primary, Gardner has acted several times in past to move the primary date forward.  In the 2012 cycle he even threatened to hold the primary in December 2011.  In 2016 the national party committees showed a determination to hold the line, no states threatened New Hampshire's position, and the scheduled date held.  Gardner attracted little notice on Dec. 17, 2015 when he made the Feb. 9, 2016 date official. This cycle the national committees again held the line, but Gardner kept an eye on whether absentee and early voting in California's March 3 primary (which begins 29 days prior) might impinge upon New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status and a move in New York.  On Nov. 25 he made the Feb. 11, 2020 date official.

Date of Pres. Primary
Date Primary Date Announced
Dates of Filing Period
Feb. 11, 2020 Nov. 25, 2019
Oct. 30-Nov. 15, 2019
Feb. 9, 2016
Dec. 17, 2015
Nov. 4-Nov. 20, 2015
Jan. 10, 2012 (Feb. 14) Nov. 2, 2011 (+)
Oct. 17-Oct. 28, 2011
Jan. 8, 2008 (Jan. 22) Nov. 21, 2007 (+)
Oct. 15-Nov. 2, 2007
Jan. 27, 2004 Oct. 14, 2003
Nov. 3-Nov. 21, 2003
Feb. 1, 2000 Sept. 28, 1999 (+)
Nov. 1-Nov. 19, 1999

Through 1968 the primary had been held on the second Tuesday of March, coinciding with town meeting day.

The rules for selecting the 33 delegates and 2 alternates who will travel to Milwaukee for the Democratic National Convention are set out in the NHDP's delegate selection plan (+).

A Robust Media Environment  twitter

Presidential hopefuls encounter a media environment that has local journalists and embeds from the national press.  Among the locals are:

John DiStaso joined WMUR-TV's politics team effective April 6, 2015 after a year at New Hampshire Journal and 34 years at the Union Leader where he wrote the "Granite Status" column.  Another key player on WMUR-TV's team is political director Adam Sexton.

Veteran reporter Kevin Landrigan now writes "Granite Status" for the Union Leader; he previously worked at Binnie Media's NH1 News and was for many years the statehouse reporter for the Nashua Telegraph.

James Pindell has been with the Boston Globe since Jan. 2015 after more than four years at WMUR-TV.

Paul Steinhauser writes for the Concord Monitor and Seacoastonline (the Portsmouth Herald and Fosters Daily Democrat).  He worked as political director and reporter for NH1 starting in 2014 after many years at CNN in Washington, DC.  Also covering politics at the Concord Monitor is Ethan DeWitt.

Josh Rogers is senior political reporter and editor at NHPR; he started at the station in 2000 after working for several magazines in New York.

In rather a shock, in Dec. 2016 AP laid off photographer Jim Cole; he had started with the organization in 1980 and was a familiar face on the campaign trail.  Photogs from Boston have been filling his role.  Reporting on the New Hampshire campaign for AP is Hunter Woodall, who started in that role in early 2019, supplementing the work of Holly Ramer.    

The Campaign Heats Up

With 10 counties and a population of 1.3 million, New Hampshire is a bit easier to travel around in than Iowa, although getting up to Coos County in the far north requires a bit of a trek.  As in Iowa, candidates must put in time speaking to groups in living rooms and small businesses around the state.  Their campaigns work to build a team of committed county chairs and precinct captains and obtain endorsements from state and local officials.  Campaign headquarters open in Manchester or Concord.  During the summer the candidates step up their visits and staff continue working to identify supporters and this activity continues into the fall as the leaves turn.

The filing period in November is one of the highlights of the fall campaign.  Most of the major candidates and many of the minor candidates make the visit to the Secretary of State's office at the State House in Concord to file in person.  It can be quite a scene; major candidates may march to the Capitol with a crowd of supporters and have supporters lining the hallway.  Surrounded by reporters, they sit at a historic desk, present their $1,000 checks, and put their name to paper.  Lesser known candidates do not attract as much notice but are treated respectfully.  Some candidates miss the fun and mail in their filing fee.  The New Hampshire presidential primary attracts a lot of candidates.  The record was in 1992.  For both 2012 (+) and 2008 (+) a total of 44 candidates filed to appear on the ballot, for 2016 58 candidates qualified (30 Republicans and 28 Democrats) (+).  For the 2020 NH primary, 50 candidates filed to compete (17 Republicans and 33 Democrats) [PDF].

Compared to the other early states, New Hampshire saw relatively few multi-candidate events and some of these drew only a handful of candidates.  The biggest events were the NHDP State Convention in Sept. 2019 and the NHDP 100 Club Dinner right before the primary.  In addition eight candidates participated in the debate at St. Anslem College on Feb. 7.

Sept. 7, 2019 (Manchester) - New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention.
Oct. 13, 2019 (Durham) - The People's Forum.cancelled
Nov. 3, 2019 (Manchester) - No Labels Problem Solver Convention.
Dec. 16, 2019 (Manchester) - Unite for Mental Health: New Hampshire Town Hall.
Jan. 6-9, 2020 (Manchester) - College Convention 2020.
Feb. 5, 2020 (Concord) - 
NH Youth Climate and Clean Energy Town Hall.
Feb. 6, 2020 (Durham) - College Costs & Debt in the 2020 Elections.
Feb. 8, 2020 (Concord) - Our Rights, Our Courts New Hampshire Presidential Forum.
Feb. 8, 2020 (Manchester) - NHDP 61st Annual McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner.

In terms of campaign organization, of the 11 Democratic campaigns that were active to primary day, Sanders,d Warren, Buttigieg and Biden had very large teams.  All four of these campaigns opened ten or more offices around the state.  While most of the candidates were devoting significant attention to Iowa, Bennet, Patrick and Gabbard largely focused their efforts in the closing months on New Hampshire.  TV viewers in New Hampshire saw a different ad mix than in Iowa.  With so many elected officials there were plenty of opportunities for endorsements, but these did not prove to be a good indicator of candidate strength.  Warren, who had the most endorsements by House members finished fourth and Biden, who had the second most, finished fifth.  New Hampshire was the only state to see a semblance of a Republican primary contest as former Gov. William Weld and longshot Matt Matern invested considerable time and money here.

As the campaign draws to a close activity intensifies.  Citizens receive numerous calls from campaigns trying to identify and mobilize supporters, their mailboxes are flooded with campaign mailers, and TV ads fill the airwaves.  After the Caucus Night celebrations in Iowa, most of the remaining candidates head immediately to New Hampshire for a final week of campaigning.  Elm Street in Manchester becomes a bit of a zoo, crowded with supporters of the candidates, representatives of various interest groups trying to get their messages out, media and political tourists; at the center of it all is the Radisson Hotel.

Independents Form an Important Voting Bloc

Undeclared voters can vote in either party's primary.  The procedure is simple.  Upon entering the polling place, a voter declares for one of the parties and votes on that party's ballot; after voting he or she can return to the undeclared status.  As noted above, undeclared or independent voters form a significant voting group. 

The New Hampshire Boost

Beginning with the counting of the votes in tiny Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, results trickle in on primary night.  Supporters of the various candidates gather, usually in the Manchester area, to watch and see who will be able to claim the boost coming out of New Hampshire. 


In the last seven New Hampshire Republican primaries, six were competitive.  The first-place finisher has gone on to win the nomination four times (Donald Trump in 2016, former Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, Sen. John McCain in 2008, and President George H.W. Bush fending off Pat Buchanan in 1992).  The second-place finisher ended up winning the nomination twice (Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, after finishing second to McCain, and Sen. Bob Dole in 1996 after finishing second to Buchanan).  Trump's resounding win in New Hampshire after a second place finish in Iowa really set him on the path to the nomination.  In 2020 President Trump had the party machinery behind him and the race was not competitive.

Top Finishers and Turnout in Recent New Hampshire Republican Primaries
Feb. 11, 2020 Trump 129,744 (85.4%), Weld 13,844 (9.0%)...

Feb. 9, 2016
Trump 100,639 (35.6%), Kasich 44,878 (15.9%), Cruz 33,214 (11.7%)... 282,804

Jan. 10, 2012 Romney 97,591 (39.2%),  Paul 56,872 (22.9%),  Huntsman 41,964 (16.9%)... 248,475

Jan. 8, 2008
McCain 88,713 (37.0%),  Romney 75,675 (31.6%),  Huckabee 26,916 (11.2%)... 

Jan. 27, 2004
Bush 53,962 (79.8%),  Others 13,662 (20.2%). 67,624

Feb. 1, 2000
McCain 115,606 (48.5%),  Bush 72,330 (30.3%),  Forbes 30,166 (12.6%)... 238,606

Feb. 20, 1996
Buchanan 56,874 (27.3%),  Dole 54,738 (26.2%),  Alexander 47,148 (22.6%)...

Feb. 18, 1992
Bush 92,271 (53.2%),  Buchanan 65,106 (37.6%),  Others 16,037 (9.2%).

In the last seven New Hampshire Democratic primaries, going back to 1992, four were competitive.  In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton finished second to Sen. Paul Tsongas but declared himself the "comeback kid" and went on to win the nomination.  In 2000 Vice President Gore won the primary over former Sen. Bill Bradley and went on to win the nomination.  In 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton bounced back from Iowa, but it was the second place finisher Sen. Barack Obama who went on to win the nomination.  In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders achieved a convincing win over former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, but she went on to win the nomination.  One can see that in three of the four competitive races the second place finisher ultimately won the nomination.  For 2020 it was the fifth place finisher, former Vice President Joe Biden, who went on to become the presumptive nominee. 

Top Finishers and Turnout in Recent New Hampshire Democratic Primaries
Feb. 11, 2020 Sanders 76,384 (25.6%), Buttigieg 72,454 (24.3%), Klobuchar 58,714 (19.7%)...

Feb. 9, 2016 Sanders 151,954 (61.0%), Clinton 95,226 (38.2%).

Jan. 10, 2012 Obama 49,080 (82.0%),  Others 10,792 (18.0%).   59,872

Jan. 8, 2008
Clinton 112,404 (39.1%),  Obama 104,815 (36.5%),  Edwards 48,699 (16.9%)... 

Jan. 27, 2004
Kerry 84,377 (38.4%),  Dean 57,761 (26.3%),  Clark 27,314 (12.4%)... 219,787

Feb. 1, 2000
Gore 76,897 (49.7%),  Bradley 70,502 (45.6%),  Others 7,238 (4.7%). 154,637

Feb. 20, 1996
Clinton 76,797 (84.4%),  Others 14,230 (15.6%).

Feb. 18, 1992
Tsongas 55,663 (33.2%),  Clinton 41,540 (24.8%),  Kerrey 18,584 (11.1%)...

Note: DNC and RNC rules have different language covering the timing of the early primaries.

DNC rules specify specific dates for the four early states, while RNC rules have a general carve-out period that covers the four early states.

However, state law, cited above, trumps the rules. If other states move up their primary dates and encroach on the window, Secretary of State Bill Gardner will move its date forward.

DNC Rule 11 - "...Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 10 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 3 days before the first Tuesday in March..."

RNC Rule 16 (4) (c) (1) - "No primary, caucus, convention, or other process to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to the national convention shall occur prior to March 1 or after the second Saturday in June in the year in which a national convention is held. Except Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada may conduct their processes no earlier than one month before the next earliest state in the year in which a national convention is held and shall not be subject to the provisions of paragraph (c)(2) of this rule."

Results and Reactions



Interest Group Activity


Candidate Visits - Democracy in Action is not tracking candidate visits this cycle.  Recommended: birddognh.org, NECN and NHDP FITN.


Key Dates

Oct. 30-Nov. 15, 2019 - Presidential primary filing period.

Feb. 11, 2020 - New Hampshire Presidential Primary.


Sept 7 - NHDP State Convention.

Jan. 6-10 - District-level delegate candidate filing period.

Jan. 25 - Pre-primary caucuses to elect delegates.

Feb. 7 - ABC News/WMUR-TV debate.

Feb. 8 - McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner.