DERRY, N.H. – Throughout the nearly half-century-long presidential rivalry between Iowa and New Hampshire, sometimes a state has to dig deep to make its case for why its contest is in fact superior. Not this year.
As New Hampshire Democrats headed to the polls Tuesday, they were divided over their candidates, the direction of their party and how to defeat President Donald Trump. But there’s at least one core belief that unites them: That other first-in-the-nation contest really messed this one up.
“The very first real primary is going to be New Hampshire, and rightfully so,” Howard Wooldridge said as he waited with a group of people hoping to get into a packed town hall event with Pete Buttigieg. That other early state? “Nobody is going to get anything out of it.”
New Hampshire voters are known for their steely New England independence, an eagerness to buck whatever those Midwesterners do with their votes.
The first-in-the-nation primary is the place that made Bill Clinton the “comeback kid” after a defeat in the 1992 Iowa caucuses. Sixteen years later, Granite State voters helped his wife, Hillary, eke out a surprise victory against Barack Obama, reviving her campaign after being bested by the Illinois senator in Iowa. In 2016, the New Hampshire voters reversed course yet again, delivering a 22-point victory to Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.
Yet, New Hampshire voters have never seen Iowa caucuses quite like these. How does a contrary New England Democrat stick it to Iowa when there’s no one to stick it to?
The Iowa Democratic Party released results indicating that Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was the winner after it updated data from 55 precincts. But errors in the result tabulations have led several news organizations to refrain from calling the race. Sanders, who won the popular vote in the state, and Buttigieg are calling for a partial recanvass of some precincts.
In the midst of the mess, the two men swaggered across New Hampshire talking about an Iowa win, each telling voters he has emerged as a clear front-runner from the contest.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Iowa-bashing was subtle — or, perhaps, more politic — than that of New Hampshire voters themselves.
“You’re a state that’s a primary, so people can vote,” Klobuchar, who is from Minnesota, told a laughing crowd in Keene on Monday. “You know how to count votes.”
As she sat in a concert hall, waiting for Sen. Elizabeth Warren to address voters in Derry, Mary Bishop, 71, said she was totally stuck on picking a candidate. But she was certain that the mess in Iowa would play no role in her decisionmaking.
“Good lord, no,” she said. “They’re in another country. You need a passport to go from Iowa to New Hampshire.”
The fact that both states would be voting in the same presidential election — the very reason a Granite Stater would pay attention to Iowa in the first place — did not seem to interfere with the trash talk.
Bishop’s friend Sue Dickinson agreed, questioning how you could trust any results out of such a chaotic process. Yet, she also wondered whether she might just want to give Buttigieg — a candidate she previously dismissed as too inexperienced — a second look.
“When you get to the middle of the country, and that just might be my bias, but they seem very set in their ways. More traditional,” Dickinson said. “It surprised me that they’d consider him.”
In interviews with dozens of voters across the Granite State, it’s clear that Iowa is on their minds, even if they don’t like to admit that a state many are eager to disparage might influence their decisionmaking.
The New Hampshire primary electorate tends to be a bit less ideologically liberal in Democratic races: More than 40% of New Hampshire voters are independent (officially called undeclared) — a significantly greater share than either party can claim — and independents are allowed to participate in either primary. With President Donald Trump facing little opposition, many are expected to flock to the more competitive Democratic primary race.
Dante J. Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said the idea of New Hampshire as a fiercely countervailing force is more political lore than fact, at least when it comes to Democratic primaries. In the 2000 and 2004 cycles, the state echoed the choices of Iowans, picking Al Gore and John Kerry.
One similarity: Like Iowans, New Hampshire voters decide late in the process. A month ago, polling showed that less than one-third of registered Democratic primary voters had “definitely” settled on a candidate.
Scala said that New Hampshire voters might want to be a little more careful in their scathing reviews of their fellow early voters.
The caucus crisis has left many party leaders eager to restructure the early-voting process, with officials in places like Michigan and Illinois already salivating at an opportunity to jump ahead in the lineup.
“The thing is, once you open the box, where do the reforms end?” he said. “We’ve been joined at the hip with Iowa for so long in the process people are going to say it’s got to be a twofer. You’ve got to take out Iowa and New Hampshire.”