Tops & Flops: Winners and Losers of NH’s 2024 primary

Check out who was on top and who flopped in this year's New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary. (Graphic Granite Post)

By Colin Booth

January 30, 2024

As smug political staffers and elected officials are so fond of reminding us, elections have consequences. The days following a major election like the one New Hampshire had last Tuesday allows us to observe and appreciate those consequences for those individuals working in front of and behind the scenes.

With millions of dollars, the eyes of the nation, the global media establishment, and a great shadow cast by the 100+ year legacy of the first-in-the-nation primary, the expectations for performing well in the New Hampshire primary are considerable. Inevitably, those charged with running these campaigns leave these important elections with reputations forever impacted, for better or worse.

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this recent cycle and see whose reputation came out burnished and whose came out burned.

TOPS

Kathy Sullivan, New Hampshire voter, treasurer and co-founder of the Write-In Biden campaign — It’s hard to argue anyone had a better week than Kathy Sullivan. Expectations for the Write-In Biden campaign were all over the map going into the last week of the primary, but the results speak for themselves: Biden beat Obama’s 2012 performance in the race without the candidate even stepping foot in the state.

Sullivan already has a long legacy in state politics, having served as the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and it seems she was able to leverage her experience and connections to fund, manage, and staff a write-in campaign that proved to be hugely effective in terms of strategy and outcome.

Independent voters — While they did not deliver Nikki Haley the win she was looking for, New Hampshire’s independent voters flexed their power once again, making up more than 70% of voters for the second place candidate, making this primary an interesting race right to the very end.

Gubernatorial Candidate Chuck Morse — He got more local and national press campaigning with and in proximity to Donald Trump during the last week of the primary than he’s had at any other point in his campaign. With his opponent in the gubernatorial race, Kelly Ayotte, hiding from the primary press, he effectively had the spotlight all to himself. There’s something to be said for committing to a candidate, like Morse has done with Trump.

Ayotte, meanwhile, has sent mixed signals. She’s said that in 2016, she did not vote for Trump and instead wrote in Mike Pence’s name. More recently, she has pledged to vote for the former president in 2024. She appears to be hoping to obfuscate her position to play both sides, but ends up doing nothing at all.

Abortion Rights — Exit polls on election day showed that abortion rights are still a powerful motivator in New Hampshire, with a majority of Granite State GOP voters saying they opposed the kinds of bans on abortion rights favored by the vast majority of Republican elected officials in the state.

Union Leader Reporter Kevin Landrigan — He single handedly cranked out 14 articles for the Union Leader in the last seven days of the primary election alone, in addition to providing on-the-ground reporting via social media and several national broadcast hits, including MSNBC and Fox News. One of the best to ever do it in New Hampshire political journalism at the top of his game.

The New Hampshire Primary — The last year saw the first-in-the-nation primary under assault from more doomsayers, bedwetters, and D.C. cronies than you could shake a stick at, and it came out stronger than ever. As President Biden said, voters here once again showed our “historic demonstration of our commitment to our democratic process.” We remained relevant throughout the primary season, drawing regular visits from national Democratic officials and a parade of Biden administration cabinet officials. The state also attracted national press attention throughout the year and with the historic write-in success, sealed our place as the most influential state primary, hands down.

There will always be an ebb and flow for how enthusiastic people are for candidates on the ballot and how campaigns are conducted, but if this year is any indication, the institution itself is as strong as granite.


FLOPS

Chris Sununu — Hard to imagine someone who had a worse week than Chris Sununu. After setting lofty expectations of a Nikki Haley win in New Hampshire, Sununu of course couldn’t deliver. He took so much of the limelight away from Haley while campaigning that even major newspapers picked up on it. 

He also failed to deliver a New Hampshire debate. In fact, it was his chosen candidate, Nikki Haley, who delivered the fatal blow to a first-in-the-nation debate. When she pulled out, it all fell apart. Why didn’t he advocate for his candidate to participate? Either he didn’t have the influence to convince her or he cared more about sparing her a potentially bad performance than he did about the tradition of a local debate.

Maybe most damning, Sununu continued his long line of endorsement failures, which has been widely dubbed the “kiss of death” in New Hampshire politics. He’s since capped it off with ugly public fights with the former president, swapping personal insults back and forth. A messy end to an ugly campaign cycle for the governor.

The DeSantis Republican House Team — In 2023, several top State House Republicans also became top staff and/or backers for Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire. Rep. Ross Berry, Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne, and Floor Leader Rep. Joe Sweeney devoted huge amounts of time and energy to the DeSantis campaign, ignoring several critical House special election campaigns in battleground districts that ultimately went to Democrats.

Despite all the promises and time they spent on social media building up the Florida governor, ultimately they couldn’t even carry the campaign they were responsible for to the finish line in the state, and spent the days before the primary sadly beating their chests and continuing to suck up to the governor of Florida. 

Kelly Ayotte — Where Chuck Morse capitalized on the attention and media presence that the primary offered, Ayotte did essentially the opposite.

She was effectively a non-presence on the trail. At a time when the eyes of the world were on the state, her inability to capitalize on her party’s biggest nominating contest suggests an approach to campaigning that is either lazy, afraid, or both. She comes out of this primary seeming both smaller and weaker than she did going in.

Deepfakes and Election Deniers — The response to the phony-Biden voter suppression robo calls was national news and someone – probably not former Chair of the NH GOP Chuck McGee this time – is almost certainly going to prison.

Andrew Yang & Dean Phillips — The cringe-filled campaign of Dean Phillips was likely not bolstered by the presence of Andrew Yang as much as he would have liked. Yang, who left the Democratic party in 2023, did little to attract attention or relevance to Phillips’ campaign in the New Hampshire primary.

Phillips himself managed to get less than 20% in the New Hampshire primary, a performance most have considered a dismal failure, and likely the high point of his campaign.

THE DNC — As New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said after the results of the Biden Write-In campaign came in, he got “lots of apologies”.

Apologies that were well deserved, but probably not effusive enough. The Democratic National Committee made a huge mess of the national primary calendar by making unworkable and unreasonable demands from multiple state entities without any plan or follow through. 

They moved South Carolina up in the primary calendar, believing it was a more pro-Biden state than New Hampshire and would thus lower the risk of a potential primary defeat in Biden’s first primary. Instead, state Democrats delivered Biden’s strongest showing in New Hampshire ever.

Author

  • Colin Booth

    Based in Epsom, Colin Booth is Granite Post's political correspondent. A Granite State native and veteran political professional with a deep background in journalism, he's worked on campaigns and programs in battleground states across the country, ranging from New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

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