New England Patriots Game Could Re-Shape the New Hampshire Primary

PHOTO: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks to pass in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium, Jan. 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Mass. Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks to pass in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium, Jan. 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Mass.

Don’t expect voters in Goffstown, N.H. to dawdle at Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich’s town hall on Sunday afternoon. The event is expected to break up shortly before the New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game that night.

"Everything stops here when the Pats are on. I know a hundred guys that would walk out,” says Tom Murphy, a maintenance worker at nearby Rivier University in Nashua. The school is just twenty minutes from Goffstown, and only a few miles away from the Massachusetts border.

Mike Dennehy, a longtime New Hampshire GOP strategist, concurs. "I know it's true because I've done that personally!" he tells ABC News. "Last Saturday I went with my son to see Carly Fiorina in Bow. [Her town hall] bled into the start of the Patriots game...and me and my son beat it out of there real quick. We didn't stay to shake hands. And there's not a doubt in my mind she would have had more people there if it wasn't so close to kickoff."

A quick look at event schedules shows that this isn't lost on campaigns. Despite the presidential race reaching a fever pitch, the state will be suspiciously quiet this Sunday: the only public appearance by a candidate during the game will be Chris Christie, who attends a watch party in Hampton Falls.

"I'm from New Hampshire," says Emmalee Kalmbach, a spokesperson for Kasich's campaign in the state. "You don't interrupt your family when they're watching the Patriots. And you don't call voters during the Patriots games. I'm serious."

But larger questions loom if the Patriots actually win the conference championship and advance to the Super Bowl.

The big game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 7, just two days before the first-in-the-nation primary, usually the single biggest “Get Out the Vote” effort of the year.

Dennehy, who is not affiliated with a campaign this cycle, says campaigns aren’t just worried about voters – there’s a chance volunteers will take the day off too.

“You only have so many weekend days when you can pull together as many volunteers as possible to make phone calls or go door-to-door,” Dennehy says. “My guess is you’d see a 30-40 percent drop-off in volunteers [on Super Bowl Sunday].”

Campaign staffers say this isn't the case; many claim they have been planning for it for months.

“Assuming the Patriots would of course make it to the Super Bowl, our state director Mike Vlacich included this in our voter contact plans months ago,” says Harrell Kirstein, the New Hampshire communications director for Hillary Clinton.

"You’re going to have people work for eight hours," says a GOP staffer that does not want to be named, "so just have them work for the eight hours before the game starts.”

The turnout troubles might not end on Super Bowl Sunday, either. If the Patriots win, many predict the team would hold a victory parade in Boston the following Tuesday – drawing thousands of New Hampshirites across the border on primary day.

“A quarter of those fans in Boston would be from New Hampshire,” says Dennehy. “Now whether those folks would find time to vote is anyone’s guess. But it would have a dramatic impact on campaigns’ 'Get Out the Vote' operations.” He compared the event to a snowstorm on election day, but one that would only affect sports fans.

This scenario would hurt some campaigns more than others, possibly causing New Hampshire politicos to do something they never thought possible: pray for the Patriots to lose.

“I guarantee there are campaigns hoping the Patriots lose,” says Dennehy. “[New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie and [Texas Senator Ted] Cruz have good ground games. Those two in particular, I think, may have a secret desire for the Pats to lose so their efforts on the ground are not impacted. I think you also get into problems with Trump voters, who are largely younger men.”

Christie spokeswoman Sam Smith isn’t buying it. “We have the most dedicated supporters and the strongest ground game,” she told ABC News. “So we’re not worried.” Cruz and Trump representatives declined to comment, though each candidate has described his supporters as “loyal.”

Still, one GOP staffer admitted, “if Tom Brady was on the ballot, he’d kick everyone’s ---.”