Hillary Clinton holds a historic lead in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, although a shift in opinion about the party’s brand could be a drag on her candidacy in the general election.
Sixty-two percent of likely Democratic voters in the early primary state said they support Clinton in a new Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire Poll of likely primary voters conducted by Purple Insights. It’s an advantage that puts her in elite company: Only former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in 1980 and former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 have broken the 50 percent mark more than six months before the primary. “Clinton’s numbers are so strong that it seems inconceivable that she could have any serious challenger,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
While she leads in the primary, the results harbor dangerous signals for Democrats. When asked which party’s nominee is more likely to “care about people like you,” a trait traditionally associated with Clinton’s party, voters were almost equally divided, with 40 percent saying Democrats and 39 percent picking Republicans. In exit polls conducted after the 2012 presidential election, 55 percent of New Hampshire voters sided with President Barack Obama and 42 percent with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney when asked to select the candidate who “is more in touch with people like you.”
“Republicans are sticking to pocketbook issues and focusing on reigning the government in,” said Kerry Marsh, a Manchester-based Republican strategist with Spectrum Marketing Companies. “I think we’re finally doing that right.”
Though New Hampshire is a small state, it has voted for the winner of the White House in eight of the last nine presidential elections. Clinton runs nearly even with Romney in a head-to-head match-up, with 46 percent of likely general election voters selecting the former first lady and secretary of state and 45 percent selecting the former Massachusetts governor. She has a wider lead—7 percentage points—against Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whom she beats 47-39 among the same group.
A surprise upset by Clinton in 2008 saved her presidential bid and marked the start of a five-month primary slog with Obama. “As I caution all presidential candidates in New Hampshire, taking New Hampshire for granted is very dangerous,” said Terry Shumaker, a Manchester attorney and Clinton supporter. “Last time, I believe, Hillary Clinton had an almost 30-point lead in the polls in our state in the summer. That lead melted like an ice sculpture on the mall in July and she came back and won our primary by three points.”
Her primary win highlighted another quirk of the Granite State: women rule. Female politicians currently hold the governor’s mansion and every seat in the congressional delegation. (That will change in January, when Republican Frank Guinta replaces Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.) “Unlike past human history, being a woman in New Hampshire is an advantage in any Democratic primary and with the independents as well,” said Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “All things being equal, our primary voters would tend to vote for a woman.”
Among all likely voters in the state, Clinton has the highest favorability rating with 51 percent of voters expressing a positive opinion about her. Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and Romney, who owns a vacation home in the state, came in second at 47 percent each.
While her lead hardly guarantees the nomination, Clinton’s dominance in the early polling may deter other Democrats from jumping into the race. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, at 13 percent support, comes the closest to Clinton of any potential Democratic challenger, though voters are pretty much split in their opinions of her with 34 percent rating her favorably and 35 percent giving her a negative review.
Other candidates, including Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, lag in the single digits.
New Hampshire Democrats attribute at least a piece of her edge to the Clinton family’s long history in the state. “Former President Bill Clinton has been here yearly for decades,” Buckley said. “They first came up in ’79. So, there’s a long, long relationship with the Clintons’ and New Hampshire.”
The poll, which was conducted Nov. 12-18, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent for questions regarding the Democratic primary, and 4.4 percent for those asked of all likely voters.
—Annie Linskey and John McCormick contributed to this report.