New Hampshire Guideposts (posted January 29, 2000)

New Hampshire serves one traditional purpose in nomination politics and that is narrowing the field of contenders. Look for the Republican field to narrow to George Bush, John McCain, and Steve Forbes, while Al Gore and Bill Bradley will continue to fight it out on the Democratic side. By mid-March, 60 percent of the total delegates will have been selected and the general election will begin.

Look for a surprise in the Granite State. With its history of independence and glee at upsetting the conventional wisdom, New Hampshire voters rarely conform to what the rest of the country expects. Part of it relates to the dynamics of the campaign. Nearly one-quarter of voters typically make up their minds in the last few days before the election. Last-minute ads, direct mail, and phone bank operations sometimes can sway the undecideds one way or another.

In addition, pollsters have difficulty measuring who actually is going to turn out to vote and which primary the Independents will decide to enter. Depending on whether the preponderance of Independents go into the Republican or Democratic primaries, either McCain or Bradley will fade well below expectations. The only predictable thing about New Hampshire is its penchant for unpredictability.