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Ghosts of New Hampshire Primaries Past: A Walking Tour

Looking back at the memories haunting presidential candidates before Tuesday’s primary.

All of the presidential candidates are scurrying around New Hampshire today, determined to diner crawl around the state, desperately smiling at undecideds until their faces get stuck that way. For quite a few of the candidates competing for votes tomorrow, this New England road trip isn’t a new experience. Instead, it’s a chance to reckon with the ghosts of New Hampshire primaries past.

There are a lot of memories. Here are a few.

Hillary Clinton

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Hillary Clinton at a town hall meeting on February 10, 2007 in Berlin, New Hampshire.

In 2008, New Hampshire was a rare bright spot in the senator’s less-than-blessed campaign. She came in third in Iowa — and then managed to surprise everyone by winning one it looked like she was going to lose.

Clinton edged out the field by two points, after winning back the support of many Democratic women. The moment everyone remembers from that primary is when Clinton nearly teared up after getting asked, “How did you get out the door every day? I mean, as a woman, I know how hard it is to get out of the house and get ready. Who does your hair?"

Her fans started calling her the “Comeback Kid” — a nickname that didn’t end up sticking, and was in fact a relic of an election that had taken place more than a decade earlier. Back in 1992, another Clinton running for president bragged that “New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid.” Mr. Clinton didn’t even win — he came in second. However, it was such a surprising result that he milked it for all it was worth — and Clintons have continued to luxuriate in this moment ever since. “Now, together,” Clinton told supporters in 2008, “let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.”

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Hillary Clinton (left) with Bill (right) on 16 February, 1992 in Bedford, New Hampshire.

All this history has to hurt a bit today, when the Clintons look at the poll numbers in their BFF primary state. The current polling average has Clinton down more than 10 points in New Hampshire — which means that if she managed to squeak out a win, it would be the third consecutive time the state has offered the Clintons a hug just when they needed it most.

“It really is so much like 1992 on steroids,” Bill Clinton told voters on Sunday, making his last-ditch case before the polls open.

Bernie Sanders is determined to not let that happen; he has been spending his massive fundraising haul — built off of all of those small donations he’s been name-dropping — to run far more ads than his rival. The Vermont senator needs this win, especially since the next primaries move to more diverse states that favor Clinton.

But as Clinton braces for potential disappointment, her supporters seem reluctant to close that window for hope. “Polls can go up and down,” New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan told the Boston Globe, “and I have learned a long time ago that I should never predict what happens in a New Hampshire primary.”

Jeb Bush

The former Florida governor has never run for president before, but a fair number of people he’s related to have. As a result, Bush is a familiar face in New Hampshire, although that doesn’t seem to have given him much of a boost.

Current polling averages have Bush unlikely to place at all — he’s down in fifth at the moment. If he can’t claw up to a second-place finish, his campaign doesn’t exactly have a reason to continue limping onward. The coverage of his chances in New Hampshire aren’t helping matters: “Bush aims to just survive New Hampshire”; “Jeb Bush Seeks To Escape The Jaws Of Humiliation In New Hampshire”; “Fight or flight? In New Hampshire, Jeb Bush's sagging campaign faces reckoning.”

In 1988, nearly a decade after he first campaigned in the state, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush’s campaign was rescued by his win in New Hampshire. After a few weeks of reminding voters that he was born in New England, even though he abandoned it for Texas, Bush said on the night of the primary, "Tonight, I somehow feel that I have a lot in common with Mark Twain. Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated."

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George H.W. Bush in New Hampshire in November 1978.

George W. Bush wasn’t so lucky — Senator John McCain won the New Hampshire primary decisively in 2000 — although he also wasn’t too worried. "New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front-runners,” he said on primary night, “and this year is no exception.” This advice will not help Jeb if he happens to lose, as “front-runner” is not a word that has been applied to his campaign since early last year.

Back in 2000, people had already started complaining about the Bush family being a dynasty, a complaint that hasn’t evaporated. “We certainly don't see ourselves as a dynasty,” H.W. told the New York Times back in 2000. “'D' and 'L' -- those two words, dynasty and legacy -- irritate me. We don't feel entitled to anything."

Regardless of what his parents might have said, Jeb is looking to see if that Bush magic might have an itsy-bitsy bit of oomph left. His mom, Barbara — who said only last year that the world had dealt with “enough Bushes” — campaigned in New Hampshire this month. At one event, Jeb joked, "Mom, my crowd sizes normally aren't this large. I wonder why."

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George W. Bush meets supporters on June 14, 1999 in New Castle, New Hampshire.

Bush’s ghosts in New Hampshire predate 1988, however. Like his brother and father, Jeb also went to school at Phillips Academy at Andover. He never cared much about politics as a student, favoring other extracurricular activities. As one high school friend told the Boston Globe, “The first time I really got stoned was in Jeb’s room. He had a portable stereo with removable speakers. He put on Steppenwolf for me.” Former Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee remembered that he was “kind of a slob.” Another classmate noted, “This was kind of his family high school. There wasn’t anything he could do to be kicked out so he was relaxed about rules, doing the work. This was just his family’s place.”

John Kasich

Back in 1999, Ohio representative John Kasich launched his first presidential bid by calling himself the “Jolt Cola” of the 2000 election, the uber-caffeinated and new-sounding choice in a race filled with Coke and Pepsi. Jolt Cola, which you have probably never heard of, filed for bankruptcy a decade later. Kasich’s presidential campaign met a similar fate.

He dropped out of the race long before the primary season began — but not before he made a few visits to New Hampshire. At one event in June, the woman scheduled to host ran over Magic, her 13-year-old sheepdog, before the event started.

After the event, Kasich offered to help her bury Magic. “I'm not leaving here without burying this dog,” he said, according to a report from NHPR, “because if I do my wife will divorce me after she kills me.”

This year, Kasich made it to the primary and has not had to bury any dogs on the way there.

Donald Trump

When the New York ego swag expert said he was thinking about running for president last year, no one bothered paying much attention. This turned out to be unwise, but you couldn’t blame America. Rumors about Trump running for president have been clogging up news cycles for nearly 30 years.

And it all started in New Hampshire.

Back in 1987, Mike Dunbar, a GOP organizer in the primary state, was underwhelmed by the candidates running. He decided to circulate petitions, trying to draft Trump into the race. Dunbar told reporters that he had run an informal poll and determined that Trump had the name recognition to win. He had asked a bunch of housewives about Trump Tower, and all of them had heard of it.

"I figured that on issues like the deficit, Trump has really great qualifications," Dunbar told the AP. "Every project that I know he's ever undertaken, he's come in under budget and ahead of time. If we had a guy like that running the country, and who could delegate that sort of expertise to the Pentagon, I think we could make some real inroads into the financial problems the country has."

A few months later, after much buzz conveniently timed for the release of The Art of the Deal, Trump told the Times he wasn’t interested in running. However, he added, "I believe that if I did run for President, I'd win.” He gave a speech in New Hampshire that fall. “If the right man doesn’t get into office,” he said, according to Politico, “you’re going to see a catastrophe in this country in the next four years like you’re never going to believe. And then you’ll be begging for the right man.”

In 2014, Trump told that the “Draft Trump” campaign “planted the seed” that led to his lifelong hobby of thinking of running for president.

So, if you happen to be among the 50 percent of Americans who would be embarrassed by President Trump, blame Mike Dunbar. Dunbar now writes teen time-travel novels — one of his characters was based on Trump — and teaches people how to build Windsor chairs.

Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator dropped out of the presidential race before the New Hampshire primary and has now turned to focus on getting reelected — probably realizing that a lesser job is better than no job at all. The fact that he was probably destined to perform badly in New Hampshire may have helped speed things along too. Like Jeb and Hillary, Paul has some family history in the state.


Rand Paul introduces his father, Ron Paul, to a crowd during a campaign stop in Nashua, New Hampshire in 2012.

In 2012, his dad, Ron, came in second in New Hampshire, thanks to a boost from libertarian-leaning voters. Many of the Rand Paul volunteers in New Hampshire were veterans of the Ron Paul campaign. Rand was heading into Tuesday’s primary with 3 percent support before his withdrawal.

In 2011, Rand went up to New Hampshire to campaign for his dad. Weirdly enough, Donald Trump -- then getting attention for his quest to find President Obama’s long-form birth certificate -- came up. “I’ve come to New Hampshire today because I’m very concerned,” Paul said, per the Times. “I want to see the original long-form certificate of Donald Trump’s Republican registration. Seriously, don’t you think we need to see that?”