Not many trees have been sacrificed to describe this year’s Democratic primary campaign, as Barack Obama is the fourth president in the last four decades to run unopposed for renomination. Running without primary opposition put his three fortunate predecessors on the path to reelection. And for Obama, it is a very considerable asset in his 2012 campaign.
Yet when compared to the other recent presidents who escaped intraparty opposition - Republican Ronald Reagan in 1984, Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, and Republican George W. Bush in 2004 – Obama’s vote-getting performance in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary Jan. 10 was a mixed bag at best.
New Hampshire allows ready access to its primary ballot for candidates of all stripes – the president was joined by a baker’s dozen – and write-in votes are easy to cast. Ultimately, Obama’s share of his party’s primary vote in New Hampshire last week was 81% – slightly ahead of Bush’s showing (80%) eight years ago, but below the vote shares for Reagan (86%) in 1984 and Clinton (84%) in 1996.
In addition, Obama drew fewer primary votes in the Granite State this time than any of the other three presidents. Clinton received more than 75,000 votes, Reagan more than 65,000, and Bush nearly 54,000. Obama’s total this time was barely 49,000.
And Obama received less than 300 write-in votes in the 2012 Republican primary, compared to the nearly 2,000 GOP write-ins garnered by President Clinton in 1996 and by Obama himself in 2008.
To be sure, there was no visible effort to get out the vote for the president this time. No Obama yard signs were to be seen across the New Hampshire countryside, a scene sharply at odds with the ubiquitous signs for the various Republican candidates. In short, the Obama team did not appear to see the need to use the primary to test their voter turnout operation in what will be a swing state (albeit with only 4 electoral votes) this fall.
But there was one bit of encouraging news for the president out of New Hampshire. His scant tally of Republican write-ins was not much different than the total of 257 write-in votes cast for George W. Bush in the 2004 New Hampshire Democratic primary. The presidential election that year proved to be highly polarized but ended in a narrow Bush victory. If Obama should win in 2012, New Hampshire provides a hint that it could be a similar sort of victory.