Senator John Kerry had been written off as a viable candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. And then, on January 19, he won the Iowa Caucus. The next week, on January 27, he won New Hampshire, and as New Hampshire went, so went the 2004 Democratic nomination for president. With his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry beside him and with cheers of “Kerry! Kerry! Kerry!” through the hall, the presidential candidate from neighboring Massachusetts moved to the podium to address his campaign supporters in Manchester. He gave them a thumbs-up and said, “Well, I love New Hampshire…Thank you. Thank you, New Hampshire for lifting up this campaign.”1
Weeks before his victory in the New Hampshire presidential primary, the first held in 2004, a Kerry win could hardly have been imagined. According to the Gallup Organization, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was the poll leader among national Democrats and New Hampshire primary voters.2 General Wesley Clark polled second nationally. But things changed dramatically and suddenly after the Kerry win in Iowa, where voters voiced a growing sense that Dean lacked the temperament to be president.3 Before the Iowa vote, Dean had led Kerry in New Hampshire polls 32 to 25. Clark was in third with 21.4After Iowa, almost overnight, Dean’s advantage in the state evaporated and Kerry became the new favorite to win. This immediately affected the dynamics of the New Hampshire contest. Tracking polls showed Kerry with a stable double-digit lead heading into the election. Gallup reported that he was “poised” for a clear win.5
On primary day, in an election battle between two New England politicians, Kerry defeated Dean by 12 points, 38 to 26. CNN described the result a “decisive win” for Kerry; NBC News said it was a “resounding victory.”6 Clark and North Carolina Senator John Edwards followed behind with 12 percent each. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman finished with 9 percent. By Granite State Democratic primary standards, Kerry’s 2004 victory was a comfortable one.7 Typically, Democratic presidential primary winners have won by single-digits as Al Gore did in 2000 (4 points), Paul Tsongas in 1992 (8 points), Gary Hart in 1984 (9 points), Jimmy Carter in 1976 (5 points), and Edmund Muskie in 1972 (9 points).
Kerry won support across the New Hampshire primary electorate. He won seven out of ten counties, including the most populous one, Hillsborough County, which encompasses the cities of Manchester and Nashua. According to exit poll data, as reported by CNN, he ran strong among Democrats, winning 41 percent of their vote. He won Independents (37 percent), moderates (43 percent) and conservatives (33 percent). Among liberals, Kerry beat Dean by one point, 36 to 35 percent. Kerry won among men (36 percent) and women (41 percent). He finished first among voters over the age of 30, and voters in all income and education brackets. Kerry, who was Roman Catholic, carried the Catholic vote with 47 percent. He also won the Protestant vote (37 percent). Kerry prevailed among union and non-union households (38 and 39 percent), military veterans (36 percent), and gun owners (40 percent). New Hampshire voters also viewed Kerry as the most experienced and strongest Democratic candidate who could run against President George W. Bush. Young voters, age 18-29, who opposed the Iraq War continued to support Dean.8
New Hampshire law permits early-morning or midnight voting on Election Day in communities with less than one hundred voters. The most famous community voting first in the first-in-the-nation primary is Dixville Notch.9 In 2004, Dixville Notch went for Clark. In all, 15 voters participated in the district’s Democratic primary and Clark won a majority with 8 votes. Behind Clark, Kerry had three votes, Edwards two, and Dean and Joe Lieberman had one each. Hart’s Location, another electoral district, similarly had early-morning voting. Clark was the winner there as well with Kerry coming in second.
After wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Kerry’s support surged nationally. Gallup had Kerry at 9 percent in early January in the last poll of Democratic preferences before the Iowa vote. With his stunning back-to-back early wins, Kerry’s support jumped 40 points from 9 to 49 percent.10 Edwards also experienced a boost in support nationwide. His support rose from 7 to 13 percent. In contrast, Dean’s meltdown in the first-in-the nation caucus and primary was reflected across the country. His numbers dropped from 26 percent to 14 percent. A similar decline happened for Clark, whose polling numbers fell from 20 percent to 9 percent.
Kerry’s New Hampshire win was significant. From 1972 to 2000, most Democrats who won the New Hampshire primary ultimately won the nomination. Carter did it twice. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis did it in 1988. Gore did it in 2000. Furthermore, no Democrat who had won both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary lost the nomination since 1972 when Muskie ended up losing to George McGovern.
Kerry would retain the momentum going forward. His campaign had the enthusiasm, the heightened media coverage, and the rising expectations of greater success to come. He was now the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I hope, with your help, to have the blessings and the opportunity to love a lot of other states in the days to come,” Kerry said.11 The next week, on the so-called mini-Super Tuesday held on February 3, he went on to win primaries in Delaware, Missouri, and Arizona, and the party caucuses in North Dakota and New Mexico.
2David W. Moore and Frank Newport, “Dean Takes Front-runner Status Nationally for First Time,” Gallup Poll News Service, December 9, 2003; David W. Moore, “Nationally: Two-Candidate Race for Democratic Nomination?” Gallup Poll News Service, January 13, 2004.
3John Kenneth White, “Choosing the Candidates,” in Winning the White House 2004: Region by Region, Vote by Vote (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 11.
4David W. Moore, “New Hampshire: Dean Leads Kerry and Clark; Edwards Trails,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 20, 2004.
5Lydia Saad, “Dean Losing His Grip on Lead in New Hampshire,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 21, 2004; Frank Newport, “Kerry Moves Into Lead in New Hampshire; Dean Falters,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 22, 2004; David W. Moore, “Kerry Continues to Surge,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 23, 2004; Jeffery M. Jones, “Kerry Maintains Double-Digit Lead in New Hampshire,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 24, 2004; Jeffery M. Jones, “Kerry Maintains Lead in New Hampshire; Dean Second,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 25, 2004; David W. Moore, “Seen as Best Candidate to Beat Bush, Kerry Poised for N.H. Victory,” Gallup Poll News Service, January 26, 2004.