Unless you count the likes of Aldous Tyler and Vermin Supreme, Barack Obama has no serious opponent in the 2012 New Hampshire Primary.
So why did the president bother , and why has Vice President Joe Biden made two visits to the Granite State in the past month alone?
For one thing, they need to rally the Democratic base and keep them from forgetting that there’s a race to be won next November.
“New Hampshire is a swing state, let’s not forget about that,” said Pat Griffin, a senior fellow at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics. “Once the circus leaves town here and all the elephants trample down to South Carolina and Florida, New Hampshire will continue to play a very important role.
“It’s only a small number of electoral votes, but you’ve gotta win here,” he added. “It’s difficult to win without winning here.”
Griffin said there’s also a sense of “homage paid” to the primary process, “a sense of needing to go through the motions” rather than waiting until the general election to start courting New Hampshire voters.
Former state Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, agreed with Griffin.
“I think President Obama and Vice President Biden are spending so much time in New Hampshire, and will continue to, because they know that our four electoral votes matter to their re-election, and also that much focus remains on our state for national politics because of our First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary,” Splaine said.
Swing state politics are nothing new in New Hampshire, a state once considered rock-rib Republican. Republicans currently enjoy overwhelming state legislative majorities in New Hampshire, but recent history shows the electorate can swing like a pendulum every four years.
Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire Democratic Primary in 2008, but Obama surged to general election victory here over McCain-Palin by 68,292 votes. In 2004, John Kerry defeated President Bush in New Hampshire by 9,274 votes. And in stormy 2000, Bush-Cheney edged out Gore-Lieberman in the New Hampshire general election by 7,211 votes.
That year, the state-by-state election maps were famously colored Red for Republicans and Blue for Democrats. New Hampshire today is a shade of royal purple, political observers say.
President Obama's re-election team knows this better than anyone. That's why he and his surrogates are focusing on a state of 1.3 million people.
Of course, Obama may be visiting because he is getting tired of watching all of the Republican candidates get in unanswered shots at him.
“Because the Republicans have a contested Presidential Primary, their candidates naturally are spending a lot of time here,” said Larry Drake, chairman of the Portsmouth Democratic Committee. “Consequently, they are getting a lot of media coverage for their attacks on the president.”
The more time the president spends in the state, the more media coverage he will get to air his views.
“You cannot continue to take a pounding in any of the swing states to all the various Republican candidates and Super PACs,” said Griffin. “Most of what they’re saying is negative about the president. Without answering your critics, you’re sort of guilty by your silence.”
“That is a consideration,” added Gary Patton of Hampton, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rockingham County Democratic Committee. “A steady flow of uniformly critical attacks can have a damaging effect, so it’s a good idea to break it up with good news from friendly candidates from time to time.”
Another key reason for Obama to spend some quality time in New Hampshire despite the lack of a real primary opponent is to highlight some of the other Democrats running for major offices, like gubernatorial candidate Maggie Hassan and 2nd District congressional candidate Annie Kuster.
“There are other races in the state, for governor, congressional races, very important House and Senate seats,” Griffin said. “The president also has to remind everyone he’s at the top of the ticket.”
Of course, being associated with Obama in this election could hurt more than it helps, at least in Griffin’s opinion.
“He’s going to be the Nancy Pelosi of this race,” he said. Candidates like Kuster who have stood with Obama from the beginning are not going to be able to distance themselves from the president, he said.
“Ann Kuster’s been affiliated with Obama since before Barack Obama was cool,” Griffin said. “Some of these other candidates are going to be reminded of how vehemently they supported him. That’s going to be very hard to run away from.”
But Arnie Arnesen, a staunch Democrat and former congressional candidate, said she doesn’t think whether Obama campaigns in New Hampshire will make a difference either way for Kuster and the other Democrats on the November ballot.
“It’s not going to hurt her, because what’s the alternative?” she said.
And while Obama may be hurt some by not being a big part of the Primary discussion, the benefits of not having to spend money on a Primary campaign far outweigh the negatives.
Splaine said he doesn’t think the fact that Obama isn’t really running in the Primary will hurt him at all. Especially given the way the Republican field is shaping up.
“The Republicans are our best friends at this point by messing themselves up, with a new ‘who's on first’ almost weekly, and with a bitter campaign developing that will likely last into the spring,” he said.
Arnesen agrees, saying that by appearing in New Hampshire, Obama shines in comparison with the Republican presidential candidates.
“The best thing that ever happened to him was Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney,” Arnesen said. “All of them remind us that sadly, we’re not being given a choice. All he’s going to do is send roses and chocolates to all of the Republican candidates, and say ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”
Already, Democrats here say, the Obama campaign has built a substantial campaign organization in New Hampshire, opening two campaign offices, with a third soon to follow.
“We have more folks on the ground here in New Hampshire than the Republican candidates combined,” boasted Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “When the Republicans all flee New Hampshire on January 11th, the Obama team will be here building and growing stronger.”