For Decades, New Hampshire Was 'Always Right' As Well As Always First

Nov 22, 2015

Credit Marc Nozell via Flickr / Creative Commons / https://flic.kr/p/3MY97U

 When it comes to presidential primaries, New Hampshire is always first. But that used to only be part of the slogan printed on bumper stickers and buttons. 

“New Hampshire, Always First, Always Right" was the state's primary slogan, according to Robert Upton, who helped make the primary always first and always right for decades. 

Upton is sometimes called the father of the New Hampshire primary, though he was just a baby when the state held its first official primary in 1916.

By the late 1940s, though, he was State House Speaker, and as he told NHPR in 1990, he saw the primary process up close – and found it lacking:

“The 1948 presidential primary in New Hampshire was a vote solely for delegates, that’s the way it had always been done up to then. And there was a lot of dissatisfaction with that. Delegates would file and run unpledged. Voters had no chance to let the delegates know for whom they should vote when they went to the convention.”

So Upton proposed the 1952 primary ballot focus on the candidates’ names instead of the delegates…

“It worked exceedingly well," he remembered. "We had a very spirited contest between General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, with Governor [Harold] Stassen of Minnesota the third candidate. On the Democratic side, Estes Kefauver, Senator from Tennessee, challenged the incumbent, President Truman. And Kefauver developed a style of personal campaigning – up and down the streets with his coonskin hat – and he did real well, I think he got the majority of the delegates. So the first time around, it was great.”

So great, in fact, that it set a precedent – that a New Hampshire primary winner would go on to win the White House ever year – hence the slogan, “Always First, Always Right.”

That streak would last from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s victory in 1952 to February 18, 1992, and this statement: “New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the Comeback Kid.” 

Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton won the presidency even though he finished second in New Hampshire - both of his successors have done the same, though all three did win the New Hampshire primary in their bids for reelection.

So maybe we could put a new slogan on our bumperstickers and buttons: “New Hampshire: Always First, Always Right… Eventually. ”