THE BLOG
01/09/2012 06:44 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2012

New Hampshire: Home of the Comeback Kid. Will It Be Huntsman in 2012?

The Granite State, known for its first in the nation primary, is also known for its role as the home of the "comeback kid" in primaries dating from Senator Gene McCarthy in 1968 to Ronald Reagan's "comeback" in 1980, to 2008 "comebacks" by both Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and John McCain for the GOP.

And, the independent minded "Live Free or Die" voters could be showing again that they do not follow anyone else's views or votes including how people voted in Iowa last week. This looks to be an intense campaign that could go the distance. In competitive campaigns, Iowa has historically had less of an impact on presidential nominations. The bigger impact has been the winner of the New Hampshire primary.

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and former United States ambassador to China could be the "comeback kid" for the 2012 New Hampshire primary. He performed well in the debate Saturday night even though his speaking Mandarin probably didn't win him all that many votes.

Huntsman seems to be appealing to Granite State voters by his level-headed answers to economic and foreign policy issues of the day. He is not pandering to the base but speaking to the country. This seems to what independent type voters are looking for and Huntsman's country before party philosophy might be resonating in New Hampshire and beyond.

A candidate does not need to actually win the New Hampshire primary to be the "comeback kid", as one needs only to surpass expectations and surprise the field and the pundits. Huntsman could finish second or even third and still garner the momentum needed to carry on for future primaries.

To be a "comeback kid" in New Hampshire one does not need to actually win the primary. In 1992 then Governor Bill Clinton proclaimed himself the "comeback kid" by his strong second place finish. Clinton's speech calling himself the 'comeback kid" did much to energize his campaign. The actual winner of the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 1992 was Senator Paul Tsongas from the neighboring state of Massachusetts. Even though Tsongas won, Clinton seemed to steal the thunder of New Hampshire by his "comeback kid" remarks.

One of the biggest impacts of all time that the New Hampshire primary has had on presidential elections is the Eugene McCarthy insurgency on Lyndon Johnson. Although plagued by the Vietnam War, Johnson was seen as a strong incumbent. It wasn't until the McCarthy campaign, and their anti-war platform, had a resounding showing of 42% of the vote. This may have been a loss for McCarthy as Johnson secured a victory with 50%, but his Democratic rivals became more aware of their party's leader's vulnerability. Shortly thereafter, Johnson famously announced that he would not seek or accept his party's nomination.

As a person who got "Clean for Gene" in 1968 the New Hampshire "comeback kid" was a real moral victory for all of us McCarthy supporters.

In 2008, the hotly contested Democratic and Republican primaries saw the impact of New Hampshire in spades. John McCain's nickname the "comeback kid" is rooted in his successes in winning the New Hampshire primary after appearing to be left out in the cold (politically). Although events in South Carolina left McCain struggling to appeal to the conservative wing of the party, the victory in New Hampshire gave McCain the money, momentum and media necessary to make the campaign competitive.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush and his victory in Iowa was quickly beaten down by Reagan in New Hampshire. While Reagan was the heavy favorite in national polls, he adopted the campaign philosophy of avoiding grassroots activism and instead projected his front-runner status. George H.W. Bush, on the other hand, participated heavily in every straw poll, state fair, hand shaking and baby kissing event possible. His strategy paid off with an upset victory over Reagan in Iowa. Bush had acquired his "Big Mo" or big momentum and felt he could keep his winning going while heading into New Hampshire. However, Reagan won big in the Granite State as well as South Carolina and began to assert his dominance as the eventual Republican nominee.

Hillary won the New Hampshire primary in 2008 with 39% of the vote to Obama's 36%. Her strong showing helped negate her loss in Iowa and led to the lengthy and drawn out Democratic presidential campaign. The current secretary of state will always be remembered in the Granite State for her tears in an interview before the 2008 primary.

In 2000 George W. Bush won the Iowa caucus but was defeated soundly by Senator McCain in the New Hampshire primary by 18%.

From McCarthy to Reagan to Bill Clinton a "comeback kid" has had the power to influence not only the New Hampshire primary but the entire presidential election process.

Could the new "comeback kid" in New Hampshire be Huntsman? Remember in New Hampshire to be the "comeback kid" you don't have to win. You just have to surprise!

This post was co-authored by Robert J. Guttman and Dustin Taylor. Robert J. Guttman teaches courses on presidential politics at Johns Hopkins University, Center for Advanced Governmental Studies. Dustin Taylor is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Center for Advanced Governmental Studies.

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