CBSNews.com's Jarrett Murphy surveys a treacherous political landscape: the New Hampshire primary.
What do Patrick Buchanan, Gary Hart, Estes Kefauver, Henry Cabot Lodge, John McCain, Edmund Muskie and Paul Tsongas have in common?
They all ran for president. They all won the New Hampshire primary. And they all failed not just to reach the White House, but to even secure their party's presidential nomination.
For the next six days, Democratic candidates and the press that follows them will treat New Hampshire — a state of 1.3 million people, or fewer than live in New York City's Bronx borough — as if the race for the nomination hinged on the outcome of its Jan. 27 primary.
And it very well might. With John Kerry coming off a big win in Iowa and John Edwards cheering his solid finish there, Kerry could claim front-runner status if New Hampshire goes his way. Edwards can prove again that he is capable of getting votes outside the South.
Howard Dean, knocked off the front-runner track, has a chance to regain momentum before the campaign heads south and west to South Carolina, Arizona and other states Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman, who abandoned Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire, may learn if that strategy pays off.
But the fact is that over its 48-year history, the New Hampshire primary has sent some fairly mixed messages. And since it dispatches only 22 out of the 4,321 total delegates who will attend the Democratic National Convention, a message is the main thing New Hampshire sends.
In some years, a victory has signaled that a candidate is firmly in charge of a race.
This was the case in 1980, when Ronald Reagan choked off any hope that George H.W. Bush, who'd won narrowly in Iowa, could beat him. Eight years later, the elder Mr. Bush similarly pulled the rug out from under Bob Dole and Rev. Pat Robertson, who had beat him in the Hawkeye State.
But sometimes, victory — or a close second — can be a last gasp rather than a turning point. Gary Hart faded in 1984 after beating Walter Mondale. McCain's win in 2000 was something of a last hurrah. And while Bill Bradley gave Al Gore a scare in 2000, Bradley ended up giving Gore his concession about a month later.
At the same time, losing hasn't always been a death-knell. Bill Clinton placed second in 1992, as did George W. Bush in 2000, but for both men, the defeat was just a bump on the road to the White House. For Mr. Clinton, it was a sign that "the comeback kid" could beat a lot of bad press.
Yet the fact remains that in the 13 New Hampshire primaries to date, the next president of the United States won his party's contest 11 times. Even if losing isn't a barrier to the nomination, it can be a sign of things to come: Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale and Dole (in 1996) all lost in New Hampshire but won the nomination, only to lose in November.
However, Messrs. Clinton and Bush stole some of the Granite State's thunder.
"We used to say in New Hampshire 'No one has won the presidency without winning New Hampshire,'" said Paul Barresi, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University. "That is no longer true."
Experts on the primary say what it offers is a chance for candidates to prove their mettle one-on-one.
"I think the person who wins the primary is certainly in a position to claim that the voters of New Hampshire, who really get a chance to evaluate the candidates, have decided that they are the best, most presidential candidate," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire's Survey Center. "The candidates are forced here to campaign face-to-face, door-to-door, give voters the opportunity to meet them."
But, Smith notes, sometimes New Hampshire voters lean toward regional favorites like Tsongas, a former U.S. senator from neighboring Massachusetts.
The Granite State's voters are also considered more liberal than the national electorate, Smith says; that means a candidate perceived to be more progressive, like McCain or Bradley, may do well in New Hampshire only to falter in more conservative states.
And sometimes, the primary results don' t translate into eventual victory because candidates in New Hampshire are running not merely against one another, but also against expectations.
In fact, there are really two New Hampshire primaries, says Barresi: One is the primary where voters cast ballots. The other is the one conducted on the airwaves, on newspaper pages and online.
"The media primary in many ways has become at least as important and in some ways more important than the voter primary," Barresi said. "One of the best ways to see the effect of that is to see that the winner of the New Hampshire primary in terms of votes is not always the winner in the media primary."
That's because in the media primary, "victory" entails beating the street; simply getting enough votes is not always been enough.
For example, in the 1992 primary, for example, the first President Bush won, but Buchanan's 36.5 percent spelled trouble for the incumbent. The elder Mr. Bush ended up losing in November.
Similar harbingers of doom appeared in New Hampshire for President Carter, after Ted Kennedy fared well against him in 1980; for President Ford, who only barely edged Mr. Reagan in 1976; and even going back to President Johnson, who left the race after Eugene McCarthy netted 41 percent in 1968.
One reason that beating expectations looms large is that candidates who do better than polls predict usually do so by attracting last-minute undecided voters. That suggests they can "those people who are on the fence," said Barresi, which is deemed essential to winning a national election.
That's why Dean faces a steep hurdle in the coming week.
"Dean easily could win the New Hampshire primary in terms of votes but lose at the same time by failing to win by a large enough margin to suggest that he will remain competitive through the rest of the primary season," Barresi said.
To make it even trickier, New Hampshire's got a big fence for people to sit on: It boasts more independents than Democrats or Republicans.
By Jarrett Murphy