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New Hampshire Is Still Wide Open

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Boston Globe’s James Pindell has a great feature for 2016. He’s begun a tally of endorsements from New Hampshire Republican leaders (via Masket). The early takeaway: this is just another indication that the Republican contest isn’t over, and isn’t even all that well-structured yet.

Pindell's graphic shows 99 New Hampshire Republicans who are still publicly uncommitted. There are eight commitments, and they are as spread out as possible, with one each supporting Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich (!), George Pataki (!!), Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. I think it’s safe to say that these results aren't a devastating setback for the other dozen or so candidates.

We can tease a little more out of this because Pindell helpfully includes 2012 endorsements from each of these New Hampshire “activists and operatives,” “fixers and connecters,” politicians and donors. It’s no big surprise that Mitt Romney dominated the state, winning over half of those who committed to a candidate:

  • Mitt Romney           38
  • Rick Perry                  7
  • Tim Pawlenty            5
  • Rick Santorum          4
  • Newt Gingrich           4
  • Jon Hunstman           3
  • Ron Paul                      3
  • Michele Bachmann   2
  • Herman Cain              1

It is somewhat surprising is that Rand Paul hasn’t secured the backing of any of those who supported his father last time around; his only endorsement so far is from a Rick Santorum 2012 supporter. Santorum, meanwhile, hasn’t retained any of his supporters. Nor has Perry, who signed up someone who was uncommitted last time.

That isn't good news for those three longshots.

Some caveats: just looking at the numbers isn’t going to tell us which of these Republicans are especially influential, and any such list is going to be at least a little arbitrary.

And it’s still very early, and New Hamsphire is in many ways an atypical Republican state, with fewer conservatives and especially Christian conservatives than most. 

There's also an important point here about how U.S. politics works. This is just the top 100 (or a little more) influential Republicans in one very small state; that suggests that there are thousands of important party actors who matter for party nominations, from the presidency down to dog catcher. Some belong to what people think of as the "establishment," such as former Senator and Governor Judd Gregg, whose father was also a governor. But some are Tea Party activists who earned their way to party influence. Indeed, very few party leaders self-identify as "establishment," which is one of the reasons I avoid using the term. Influencers come in all stripes. And many of these figures, from all ideologies and origins, think of themselves as outsiders or insurgents.

Pindell provides exactly what we need to get a sense of what’s really happening in at least one state. It's very good to make the "invisible" primary as visible as possible.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net