The Neo New Hampshire Primary

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 30 2010 11:33 AM

The Neo New Hampshire Primary

David Bernstein gets specific about just how much New Hampshire's Republican landscape has changed since 2008, when John McCain beat Mitt Romney and that nice old congressman who talked about the Fed slumped into fifth place. John Sununu is retiring after his (incredibly successful) comeback term running the state GOP. Judd Gregg has retired, taking with him the sturdiest Republican machine in the state.

New Hampshire Tea Partiers, in the afterglow of their 2010 success, are already looking for a conservative, populist candidate, says Andrew Hemingway, chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus, which endorsed more than 100 of the new Republican House members. "There's already been a shift in attention toward the presidential contest" among those activists, Hemingway says.

The state's establishment Republicans, on the other hand, will be looking for a more mainstream, electable candidate — one they hope will benefit from the large number of independents expected to vote in the Republican primary, with Obama's re-nomination a foregone conclusion.

.... Neither Kimball nor Bergeron are big enough players to immediately become power brokers, regardless of which of them wins the state party chairmanship in the mid-January vote. Meanwhile, political insiders say that neither Senator-elect Ayotte nor O'Brien seem inclined to assert themselves as kingmakers. The state party didn't even organize the traditional dinner, usually held a year before the primary, that has served in the past as a showcase for speeches from presidential candidates. Which means that, for the time being, it looks like an open market, with little centralized control over the endorsements and assistance from several hundred elected Republican lawmakers, organizers, and volunteers.

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Left unsaid here is something I speculated about in my BHTV diavlog with Ben Smith. The concerns and composition of the Republican electorate have changed. If you hit New Hampshire (and to a greater extent Iowa) in 2007, you had to talk about the surge in Iraq, immigration, and fiscal responsibility in fairly generic terms. Now, if you're a Republican candidate, you have to confront armies of cell phone camera-bearing Tea Partiers who will grill you on the Federal Reserve, on privatization of GSEs, on balancing the budget with entitlement and defense cuts, on Obama's czars, etc and etc. In 2009 and 2010, we saw a lot of politicians -- mostly Democrats -- flummoxed and caught on tape when asked about Van Jones or how health care reform was constitutional. It's possible for the candidates to pander to everyone, but there are complex issues they're going to be asked to take hard libertarian/strict constructionist stands on.

That will become at least as much of a factor weeding out candidates as the new randomness of Republican endorsements and lack of any power players, apart from the Union Leader .

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.