The people of New Hampshire have always understood the importance of their role in helping to choose the person who will fill the most powerful office on Earth, and carefully considering each candidate has become something of a family tradition. It’s not surprising then that it has been said, “As New Hampshire goes, so goes the nation.”
This isn’t just empty talk. According to scholar William G. Mayer, winning the New Hampshire primary increases a candidate’s total primary vote share by over 26 percent, a truly remarkable figure. For the seemingly endless list of Republican candidates, campaigns will be made or broken in New Hampshire.
Early polling suggests at this point it’s anyone’s race, but there are several excellent reasons to believe that when 2016 finally rolls around, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will do extremely well in New Hampshire compared to his fellow challengers.
New Hampshire has traditionally rejected primary candidates considered to be “too far” to one end of the political spectrum, and NH voters, even Republicans, are not generally motivated by candidates who espouse social conservatism. This means Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) will likely find themselves out of their element. The sort of strategies and talking points that will work in Florida, South Carolina, and Texas simply won’t resonate with New England voters, and especially not libertarian-leaning New Hampshire voters.
On the surface, it appears Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) may be good fits, but neither candidate is an especially charismatic speaker—which is a vital aspect of NH campaigning—and Bush’s close connections to his brother, President George W. Bush, is unlikely to help his cause. Voters in New Hampshire supported Barack Obama and congressional Democrats in overwhelming numbers in 2008, in large part as a protest against the established Republican Party and the Bush presidency.
This leaves Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as the two candidates who have the best chances in 2016 in New Hampshire. Most polls show both are receiving similar support, but there is one reason in particular Rubio should have the edge: he’s an incredible orator and storyteller, and this, perhaps more than anything else, is what will win NH voters over.
Unless you’re from New Hampshire, it’s hard to understand just how seriously Granite State voters take their first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Thousands of voters pack rustic New England meeting houses, corner coffee shops, and even empty fields and parking lots. Wherever candidates can find the space to speak, they do—and New Hampshirites come running.
This gives exceptional speakers like Rubio an incredible, almost immeasurable advantage over his opponents. This is not to say all great speakers win in New Hampshire or that poor speakers cannot overcome the odds. As it was previously mentioned, New Hampshirites are unlikely to vote for any candidate, regardless of his or her speaking talents, if the candidate is considered to be a radical ideologue. NH Republican voters typically throw their support towards right-leaning—rather than far-right—candidates with a willingness and talent for delivering positive policy messages. This is precisely how Rick Santorum (R) was able to rapidly move from almost no support to finishing with nearly 10 percent of the vote in 2012, and Rubio shares many of the same qualities, but with a much better pedigree going into the race.
Paul is sure to get a lot of support from libertarians in the state. His father—former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.)—earned 22.8 percent of the vote in the 2012 GOP primary, but it’s far more likely center-right voters will be more attracted to Rubio, especially since Rubio is seen by many in the region as a man who is willing to negotiate on important issues such as immigration.
Although a lot can happen between now and the primary season in early 2016, Rubio has all of the necessary credentials and personal qualities New Hampshire Republicans find appealing, and Rubio’s stump-speech talents give him a leg-up over many of his opponents.