In N.H. Primary, North Country Campaign Stops Are Few and Far Between

Dec 22, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd at the Littleton Opera House earlier this summer, one of a handful of North Country visits that presidential candidates have made this year.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

The presidential primary trail is taking a rare detour through New Hampshire’s North Country this week.

Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and both in the midst of multi-day swings through Coos and northern Grafton and Carroll counties. Rubio held a town hall meeting in Bartlett Monday evening, visited the Berlin VFW this morning, and will be in Bethlehem and Littleton later this afternoon and evening. Bush meets with voters at White Mountains Community College in Berlin and the Littleton VFW today.

Next week, it’s Hillary Clinton turn to head north of the notches: she’ll hold a campaign stop at Berlin Senior High School next Tuesday.

The flurry of North Country campaigning may seem like a lot of attention. But it's actually a relatively rare pattern.

Northern New Hampshire has seen little of the presidential candidates this year. Of the nearly 850 campaign stops by candidates of both parties across the state since May, just 39 have taken place north of the White Mountains (see map, below). 

The vast majority of presidential primary campaign stops this year have been in the far southern part of New Hampshire, with few candidate visits north of the White Mountains.

That scarcity is largely due to demographics. Most of New Hampshire's residents live in the densely populated Southern Tier, the wedge stretching south from Manchester and east towards the Seacoast.

By contrast, just 2 percent of New Hampshire residents call the North Country home, according to Census data from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.

But Northern New Hampshire is more than just a more forested, less-populated version of the state as a whole. The issues and challenges facing residents there differ significantly from the rest of the state. The region’s residents are, generally speaking, older, poorer and less educated than folks in the southern part of New Hampshire.

The North Country economy has also been hit particularly hard by the Great Recession and the overall decline in manufacturing over the past few decades. Population declines and a lack of infrastructure pose further challenges for the region's future.

But, despite the remoteness and paucity of voters, candidates still see some advantage in campaigning in Coos -- if for no other reason than to boast that they've done so. If harsher winter weather makes it way to the state in the primary's final weeks, getting up north may prove even less tempting to campaigns.