Joe McQuaid's Publisher's Notebook: NH primary voters are full of surprises

The 50th anniversary of a particular New Hampshire Presidential Primary doesn’t mean that our first-in-the-nation primary is 50 years old. It’s all in how you construct your sentences.

An imprecise lead on our Sunday News story last week about the 1968 primaries (Democrat and Republican) led to some confusion about when it all started.

In fact, our primary began in 1916 and has been the nation’s kickoff presidential election event since 1920. It began making national news in 1952, when the candidates’ names were put on the ballot for the first time. Before that, it was only convention delegates who were elected.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner has done a great job in protecting the primary through the years. Last week, he hosted a two-hour panel presentation on that fateful ’68 event, in which New Hampshire did the unexpected. (C-SPAN recorded the event for showing on its C-SPAN3 channel at a later date.)

That year, Democrat incumbent President Lyndon Johnson was supposed to have no real opposition. He didn’t put his name on the ballot (some say he never liked to compete unless it was a sure thing.) But Johnson had a strong write-in effort led by Gov. John King and U.S. Sen. Tom McIntyre. But little-known U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota stole the show by beating the expectations game against LBJ. Three weeks later, Johnson took himself out of running for another term. Incidentally, McCarthy’s campaign manager that year was Blair Clark, cofounder of our New Hampshire Sunday News.

Something similar to the ’68 surprise had happened in ’52. We are all supposed to know that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who wasn’t even out of uniform yet, won the GOP side that year.

Not so well-known is that Democrat Harry Truman, the incumbent President, got clobbered in the primary by U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver and, like LBJ 26 years later, Truman soon decided not to run again.

New Hampshire often makes a difference because we are a small state with a passion for politics, and we take our primary duty seriously.

Not that we always get it right. Last time around, the Democrats nationally might have paid more attention when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton here. It might have caused them to realize that Hillary was about the worst candidate they could nominate and that someone, perhaps anyone else, might have had a chance to beat the Republican nominee.

President Trump is expected here today.

Write to Joe McQuaid at Publisher@unionleader.com or on Twitter at @deucecrew.