Winners and Losers of the New Hampshire Primary

If Romney Wins, Does History Say He's Unstoppable?

Jan. 10, 2012 -- intro:

New Hampshire, a small New England state with roughly the same population as the city of San Antonio, has been a momentum-setter in presidential elections for nearly a century.

While Iowa has held its caucus before New Hampshire's primary every year since 1972, Iowa's caucus results are non-binding and delegates are not officially awarded until June, making New Hampshire the first state to award delegates in each presidential nominating cycle.

Since its first-in-the-nation status became official more than 30 years ago, only two Republican presidential candidates have lost in New Hampshire and gone on to win the nomination.

With Mitt Romney taking a narrow win in Iowa and holding a 24-point lead in the latest New Hampshire poll, history would tell you he has this GOP nomination under wraps. But while anything is possible in the state whose motto is Live Free or Die, Romney's rivals will have a steep climb to overtake him if he wins there today.

In the past 10 presidential elections, only two candidates -- Democrat or Republican -- have ever lost in both Iowa and New Hampshire and still secured their party's nomination.

Here's a look back at the White House dreams that have perished and those that have prevailed in the Granite State since New Hampshire, by law, became the first-in-the-nation primary state:

quicklist: 1 title: 2008: Hillary Clinton and John McCain text:

After little-known Illinois Sen. Barack Obama triumphed at the Iowa caucus, many pundits were already writing obituaries for the previously presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, who finished third in Iowa.

But a last-minute push through New Hampshire propelled Clinton to a narrow victory in the Granite State and began trade-off wins that went on to dominate the Obama-Clinton primary rivalry.

As it turned out, Obama went on to become just the third Democrat in 30 years to go on to win the party's presidential nomination despite losing in the New Hampshire primary.

On the other side of the aisle, the race was not quite as volatile. The eventual GOP nominee, John McCain, surged to first place in New Hampshire after finishing a dismal fourth in Iowa. Despite owning a home there and serving as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, Mitt Romney came in second in the Granite State in 2008.

quicklist:2 title: 2004: John Kerry text:

The 2004 election proved that momentum is key in early presidential nominating contests. After polling a distant third leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Kerry surged to first there. The Massachusetts senator rode his Iowa momentum to a victory in New Hampshire.

While polls predicted a close race, Kerry bested former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean by 12 percentage points and went on to win the Democratic Party's nomination. Kerry was defeated by incumbent president George W. Bush in the general election.

quicklist: 3 title: 2000: Al Gore and John McCain text:

George W. Bush is one of only two Republican presidential candidates in the past 30 years who has lost the New Hampshire Primary and went on to win the GOP nomination. Bush lost to Sen. John McCain in the first-in-the-nation primary by nearly 20 percentage points.

Fiercely negative ads in South Carolina halted McCain's New Hampshire momentum and Bush eventually secured the GOP nomination.

Democrat and sitting Vice President Al Gore won an easy victory over former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, his only challenger, in the 2000 New Hampshire Primary. Gore went on to win every primary race that cycle, but lost the White House to Bush in the closest general election in history.

quicklist: 4 title: 1996: Pat Buchannan text:

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent president George H.W. Bush in 1992, scored an upset victory over Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole in the 1996 New Hampshire primary. Buchanan eventually conceded the nomination to Dole, who won in Iowa and scored big on Super Tuesday.

Dole was the first GOP nominee in more than three decades to lose New Hampshire and still win the nomination. He lost the general election to incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton.

quicklist:5 title: 1992: Paul Tsongas text:

The 1992 Democratic primary election was unlike any in modern history. With Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in the race, every other candidate skipped the Iowa caucus, making New Hampshire the first contested race of the nominating cycle. Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas clinched the top spot in the Granite State, but it was then-little-known Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton who gained the most momentum from the first primary.

Clinton surged from a distant third-place finish in Iowa to a strong second-place showing in New Hampshire. He rode that momentum to sweeping wins on Super Tuesday and eventually the Democratic nomination.

Clinton triumphed over incumbent president George Bush Sr., who faced a primary challenge from commentator Pat Buchanan, to take control of the White House in the 1992 election.

quicklist: 6 title: 1988: Michael Dukakis and George Bush Sr. text:

The early GOP frontrunner George Bush Sr. came out of the gate with a crushing third-place finish in the Iowa caucus, where Bob Dole snagged the top spot. But after lambasting Dole with negative ads in New Hampshire, Bush emerged the victor in the first-in-the-nation primary.

A similar story line played out on in the Democratic nominating process with the eventual nominee Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis also finishing third in Iowa behind House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. Dukakis rebounded from his Iowa loss to take first in New Hampshire and eventually secured the Democratic nomination.

With the backing of outgoing president Ronald Reagan, Bush went on to win the GOP nomination. Bush defeated Dukakis in the general election to become the 41st president of the United States.

quicklist:7 title:1984: Gary Hart text:

After a distant second-place finish in Iowa, Colorado Sen. Gary Hart surged to a 10-point victory over Iowa caucus winner and Former Vice President Walter Mondale. Hart employed an all-in strategy in New Hampshire similar to what current GOP candidate Jon Huntsman has undertaken, devoting nearly all of his campaign resources to the Granite state.

Hart eventually lost the nomination to Mondale, who in turn lost the general election to Republican incumbent president Ronald Reagan.

quicklist: 8 title: 1980: Ronald Reagan text:

Ronald Reagan, the early frontrunner in the GOP primary, won an easy victory in New Hampshire over George Bush Sr. after losing to Bush in the Iowa caucus. Reagan dominated Bush in nearly every other primary contest to win the nomination.

Incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter, facing dismal approval ratings, faced a primary challenge from Sen. Ted Kennedy. Although Carter secured the nomination he lost to Reagan in the general election.