NH already anticipating flurry of 2008 presidential primary

With recent visits from Sen. Russ Feingold and former Rep. Newt Gingrich, Hanover is already feeling the anticipation of the 2008 presidential primary, even though it is still more than two years away.

Assuming Vice President Dick Cheney sticks to his former statements and does not run, 2008 will be the first time since 1952 that the incumbent party has put forth a candidate who is neither the president nor vice president.

Government professor Linda Fowler, who studies the New Hampshire primary, explained why both politicians and the media lend importance to the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.

“It’s the first test of how a campaign’s message resonates with the electorate,” Fowler said. “The press pays attention to it because they want to get some independent barometer of who they think the strong candidates are, and they’re always looking for someone who exceeds expectations or falls below expectations. And because the press pays a lot of attention to the primary, the candidates pay a lot of attention.”

Potential Democratic Party candidates include Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, retired army general Wesley Clark, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Virginia Governor Mark Warner.

For the Republicans, potential candidates include Sen. George Allen of Virginia, Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, New York governor George Pataki, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Fowler said some politicians are only viewed as potential candidates because of their big names and may have little intention to run. Both Jeb Bush and Condoleezza Rice, for example, have said they are not interested in running.

Most of the Republican candidates have moderate views, Fowler said, calling Allen and Frist “the only real conservatives.”

Frist’s loyalty to President George W. Bush may turn out to be a disadvantage in 2008, given the president’s low approval ratings.

“Whatever Frist makes of his ties to Bush, it will have to be more in terms of picking up his donors, being the person who’s kind of viewed as the heir to Bush’s policies,” Fowler said.

The more moderate McCain, however, has scored points with voters by maintaining a certain distance from the president and his policies.

“He’s proving to be very adroit and offering some alternative perspective on the Iraq war while nevertheless supporting it,” Fowler said. “So he’s doing a very good job of distancing himself from the Bush policies.”

Fowler cautioned, however, that 69-year-old McCain has had health issues and may not run.

Fowler also has doubts about the viability of a Gingrich candidacy.

“The ethics baggage is hard for him,” she added, referring to numerous charges lobbied against the politician.

Clinton has seen high poll numbers and, according to Fowler, has the advantage of having a former president as her husband.

“She would be in a position to pick up the Clinton fundraising network,” she said. “And it’s a national network.”

Clark, who made a poor showing in 2004, has been doing a lot of traveling in connection with his political action committee. Fowler said his military ties could benefit him in 2008, especially if voters want a president who will have a specific plan for Iraq.

This would contrast with Kerry’s stance on Iraq during the 2004 election, which was seen as unclear.

“The Democrats just have a problem nationally, that the Republicans own national defense and national security as an issue,” Fowler said. “And the Democrats thought they could defuse that by picking someone who has a record as a war hero, but in fact it was not a substitute for having a real plan.”

It remains to be seen whether Kerry will attempt to run again in 2008.

“He’s sending out Christmas cards to all his donors and periodic updates with photos,” Fowler said.

Fowler cautioned against assuming that the winner of the New Hampshire primary will win the party’s nomination.

“Until recently, there was this historical fact that people who won the New Hampshire primary won their nomination, but that doesn’t work for Republicans anymore,” she said, explaining that the religious right is comparatively weak in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire law states that its primary will be the first in the nation. Accordingly, it has had to move the date earlier and earlier to compete with other states. Last year, it was held Jan. 27. While no campus visits from candidates are scheduled yet, politicians are sure to stop at Dartmouth in the coming months.

The primary attracts not only mainstream candidates but also more unconventional ones.

“You always have candidates from the Hemp Party and [perennial fringe candidate] Lyndon Larouche and individuals who just think they should be president,” Fowler said with a laugh. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to be a Dartmouth student if you’re interested in politics.”

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