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New Hampshire always offers drama

In New Hampshire, there's an old political saying: In Iowa, they pick corn; in New Hampshire they pick presidents.

Even allowing for home state bravado, there's much truth to that boast. In fact, Iowa's caucuses didn't start until 1976, 24 years and six presidential cycles after New Hampshire became a vital state for the rest of the nation.

Presidential primaries actually date all the way back to 1912, when 12 states held them. But they drew scant attention because party officials controlled the process and the nomination was decided at the national nominating convention. It wasn't until 1952 that the Granite State became so important to the selection process.

A write-in vote that year for World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower propelled Ike to the nomination and a two-term presidency.

In the 1956 primaries, a reluctant Adlai Stevenson was ultimately nominated by the Democrats, but Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee showed such voter strength in New Hampshire that he wound up as Stevenson's running mate. Ike routed the Democratic ticket in November.

The 1960 primary saw young Sen. John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts win easily on the Democratic side. Vice President Richard Nixon was the easy GOP winner in a rather dull year by New Hampshire standards.

There was a turbulent battle on the GOP side in 1964. New Hampshire Republicans pulled a major surprise by writing in the name of Henry Cabot Lodge, the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and then ambassador to South Vietnam. While Lodge's victory stunned the GOP, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona captured the nomination only to be buried by Lyndon Johnson in November.

The 1968 primary came as the nation was ripped apart by demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. Johnson dropped out of the race after Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota showed voter attraction as an antiwar candidate in New Hampshire. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey eventually won the nomination but lost to Nixon in November.

The 1972 primary featured the "crying incident" with former Maine Sen. Edmund S. Muskie who was outraged at an attack on his wife by the state's right-wing newspaper in Manchester. Muskie won but was so crippled that runnerup George McGovern secured the nomination, only to lose to Nixon in a huge landslide.

Gerald Ford was president after Nixon's resignation in 1974, but his narrow defeat of Ronald Reagan in 1976 showed a distinct weakness. Jimmy Carter prevailed on the Democratic side and won a squeaker in November.

In 1980, Reagan won the primary after being upset by George H.W. Bush in Iowa. The Democrats stayed with Carter, who was challenged by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Reagan won to begin his eight-year hold on the White House.

The 1984 Democratic primary illustrated how independent the voters in New Hampshire can be. Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, who lost by a huge margin to Vice President Walter Mondale in the Iowa caucuses, won the primary and chased Mondale all the way to the convention. Reagan buried the Minnesotan in the fall.

In 1988, the elder Bush got his revenge for the embarrassment in 1980. The vice president finished a miserable third in Iowa, only to win in New Hampshire and glide to the nomination. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was an easy winner but Bush beat him in the general election.

The elder Bush became a one-termer, at least in part, by showing a weak side in the 1992 primary. Bush won but conservative Pat Buchanan managed a surprising total while taking on a sitting president. Democrat Bill Clinton called himself "the comeback kid" after finishing second in New Hampshire and went all the way to the White House.

Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas was the GOP nominee in 1996, but only after losing to Buchanan in New Hampshire. Dole's problems made it easier for Clinton.

Finally, the 2000 primaries once again illustrated the feisty nature of New Hampshire voters. Republican George W. Bush lost decisively to Sen. John McCain of Arizona but recovered to win the nomination after beating McCain with a nasty attack and smear tactics in South Carolina. Al Gore bested Bill Bradley on the Democratic side but it was close enough to point up a vulnerability with Gore.

Now it is 2004. Bush the younger has no opposition. John Kerry is coming off an amazing upset in Iowa, while early favorite Howard Dean may be fighting for his political life. Stay tuned next Tuesday for what New Hampshire tells the rest of us. It may surprise.

John Mashek is a retired political reporter and editor in Washington who has visited New Hampshire many times.

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