As the Democratic Party begins to contemplate its 2008 presidential primary schedule, University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson has an instructive history lesson to toss into the mix - a lesson that just might pit Massachusetts against New York.
With other states grousing about the coveted spot enjoyed by New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, UVM's presidential polymath notes that New Hampshire primary voters have long displayed a distinct preference for New Englanders or those with strong New England ties.
By Nelson's acount, Granite State primary voters have selected New England candidates, or candidates with New England roots, nine times in the past 12 elections.
That tendency is most pronounced in the Democratic primary. Since 1988, Massachusetts pols have won the New Hampshire primary three times: Michael Dukakis in that year, Paul Tsongas in 1992, and John Kerry in 2004.
(Indeed, the only Massachusetts candidate who has suffered a serious setback there has been Ted Kennedy, who lost, though narrowly, to incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980.)
Go back to 1960, and the New England count expands to include Jack Kennedy of Massachusetts, in that year, and Ed Muskie of Maine, who won what proved an unconvincing victory in New Hampshire in 1972.
And as for the Republicans? Well, former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, then ambassador to Vietnam, won without even being in the country in 1964. And if you include Massachusetts-born and Connecticut-reared George H.W. Bush, a self-identified Texan but with a preppie New England demeanor, add 1988 and 1992. (It may be a bit of a stretch to count, as Nelson does, this year's victory by Connecticut-born and New England-educated George W. Bush, who was certainly more clearly deined as a candidate from the Lone Star State.)
To be sure, New Englanders don't always stay in the Granite State cabird seat for the entire campaign. In 1988, Dukakis did, starting with, and keeping, a lead in New Hampshire.
Other years, however, the trail has proved a bit bumpier. Tsongas, who began as the New Hampshire front-runner in 1992, lost that status to Bill Clinton, bouncing back to win only after Clinton's campaign hit turbulence.
This year, Kerry had slipped well behind another New Englander, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. The Massachusetts senator surged back to win after the wheels came off Dean's campaign in Iowa.
With US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and New York State Governor George Pataki all eyeing presidential candidacies in 2008, here's what is most interesting about Nelson's research: If the New Hampshire primary tilts toward New England candidates, it also tilts away from New Yorkers.
Indeed, Nelson believes one can trace a marked decline in the fortunes of New York State candidates to the advent of the New Hampshire primary in 1952. "Prior to 1952, New York State had been the pre-eminent source of presidential talent in the United States, '' Nelson says.
From 1864 to 1948 - a period that includes 22 presidential contests - candidates representing New York State won one of the major-party nominations 17 times. That includes 14 nominations of sitting or former Empire State governors.
But since 1952, only two (adopted) New Yorkers have become their party's standard-bearer: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and Richard Nixon in 1968.
Now, New Hampshire is hardly the only reason for New York state's decline as a presidential power.
Part of it, certainly, is that some political figures who occupied pivotal New York posts for long periods have declined to run for president. Into that category one would put Mario Cuomo, the three-term Democratic governor and perennial presidential Hamlet, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the four-term Democratic senator.
Still, New Hampshire has also played a role.
For example, despite his national prominence, Nelson Rockefeller's presidential hopes never got traction in New Hampshire. In 1964, with Americans still scandalized by his divorce and remarriage, Rocky, running hard, finished third behind Lodge and Barry Goldwater. And in 1968, a late-starting write-in attempt by Rocky to cast himself as an alternative to Richard Nixon and George Romney went nowhere.
A more recent New York candidate who never managed to catch fire in New Hampshire is then US Representative Jack Kemp, who finished third there in 1988. And one might even count former US Senator Bill Bradley, who, as a long-time member of New York Knicks and a senator from next-door New Jersey, enjoyed virtual New York status. He lost New Hampshire to Al Gore in 2000.
Some other New York presidential candidates, perhaps sensing the pitfalls, have avoided New Hampshire altogether. That was the case with New York Governor Averill Harriman, a Democrat, in 1956; with New York City Mayor John Lindsay, running as a Democratic, in 1972; and Democratic congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was only a minor figure in that year's race.
So what lessons can one take from that record?
Nelson sees a possible tug-of-war shaping up between the three aforementioned New Yorkers who are eyeing a candidacy and the two Massachusetts officials - Senator John Kerry and Governor Mitt Romney - who may be in the hunt.
"The New York candidates should root for any effort to remove New Hampshire from the top of the list, because it is in their interest to push New Hampshire to the side,'' Nelson says. "But the Massachusetts candidates ought to fight to keep New Hampshire in play, because since the start of the primary, New England has trumped New York as the source for Northeastern candidates.''
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is email@example.com.