Only death and taxes are inevitable, says the old saw. To those two markers in our lives, I would add a third and a fourth: the New Hampshire primary and criticism of that quadrennial event. In spite of repeated attempts to preempt and overshadow it, the New Hampshire primary has remained a political constant. It is still the first primary of each election year and the most-covered, most-discussed event of the nominating process. And it continues to play a critical role in the selection of the nation's presidential nominees.
Niall Palmer (as an Englishman) brings needed distance and detail to the study of the New Hampshire primary in the first major examination of that event since Charles Brereton First in the Nation: New Hampshire and the Premier Presidential Primary ( 1987), and Dayton Duncan Grass Roots: One Year in the Life of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary ( 1991). But while Duncan's journalistic approach reported on a single primary, 1988, and Brereton's book was largely a narrative of the state's primary battles from 1952 to 1984, Palmer goes much further as he both updates New Hampshire through the 1996 primary and brings the analytical eye of a political scientist and academic to the spectacle and to the charges of critics.
Palmer understands that any primary process is going to advantage some candidates and disadvantage others, and he recognizes that each election cycle is different. That means that tinkering with the process often produces different results than anticipated. While the delegate selection process was "front-loaded" in 1996, advocates argued that it would minimize the likelihood of long, drawn-out (and frequently divisive) battles for delegates. But "front-loading" the process tends to benefit candidates who begin with national stature, who can compete in a number of states simultaneously, and who can raise mountains of cash. In 1996, the front-loaded schedule helped win the Republican nomination for the front runner, Bob Dole, but it didn't prevent Dole from being battered by attacks from