The Best Historical Moments of the New Hampshire Primary

Senator Eugene McCarthy waves to party workers at his presidential campaign headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire, on March 13, 1968. An anti-war senator from Minnesota, McCarthy ran for president with the hope of pressuring the members of the Democratic party to oppose the Vietnam War. AP

New Hampshire has been the proving ground for presidents. When the stakes are this high, there's always drama. Here's a look at some of the primary's most memorable moments.

President Harry Truman Pushed Out of 1952 Race

When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, Vice President Harry Truman finished FDR's term and won his own in 1948 in a close, three-way race. In 1952 Truman sought one more term.

But the Korean War was approaching its third year and widespread corruption among federal employees, including those in his administration, had been exposed. The unpopular president faced a strong challenge from Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, who Truman widely disliked because of his investigation of organized crime that revealed connections between Mafia figures and some in the Democratic political organization.

In the polls, Truman was the leading candidate among Democratic voters, but trailed Kefauver among independents. In the 1952 New Hampshire primary, Kefauver defeated Truman and won all of the delegates in the state. Less than three weeks later, Truman announced he would abandon his campaign and not seek a second full term. He wouldn't be the last sitting president to get knocked out in the Granite State.

Eugene McCarthy's Strong Finish Leads Lyndon B. Johnson to Withdraw in 1968

Eighteen years after Truman withdrew from the race, New Hampshire voters again forced another unpopular president to abandon his campaign. Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the office after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Although he signed landmark civil rights laws and Medicare enactment, Johnson's presidency later was plagued by the Vietnam War.

No prominent Democratic candidate poised to challenge Johnson until antiwar Senator Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota entered the New Hampshire primary in 1968. The incumbent president defeated McCarthy by less than 10 points, but the close showing shocked the country and emboldened other antiwar liberals to enter the fray, including New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Shortly after, Johnson dropped out of the race.

Ed Muskie Cries Before 1972 New Hampshire Primary

Secretary of State Ed Muskie was the leading Democrat running for president in 1972. His long tenure in the U.S. Senate and spot as Hubert Humphrey's running mate on the 1968 Democratic ticket made him the man to beat. Muskie won both the Democratic Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary over Senator George McGovern from South Dakota. But he eventually lost momentum in the wake of the dirtiest trick in New Hampshire presidential primary history: the so-called Canuck letter.

The letter was a forged document to the editor of the Manchester Union Leader that implied Muskie had made derogatory comments about French-Canadians, many of whom lived in northern New England. The FBI later discovered the Canuck letter was part of a campaign against Democrats.

The local newspaper also published an attack about Muskie's wife, Jane, saying she drank and used vulgar language while on the campaign trail.

Muskie responded by holding a press conference during a snowstorm outside of the newspaper's office. After the event, the media reported that Muskie had broken down and cried while speaking.

"I hope that the people of Manchester find a way to say…that they don't like his kind of journalism here in New Hampshire and that they say it in a way that they can make it stick," he said about the editor.

Presidential crying was less in fashion then. Muskie later said the tears that reporters saw were snowflakes that fell on his face. But the newspaper stories already had clouded some voters' image of him as a calm and stable contender, and his candidacy soon was obsolete.

Muskie's small win over McGovern in New Hampshire caused the underdog candidate to boast a comeback. Muskie's campaign eventually withered and he returned to the Senate.

Ronald Reagan "Paid for This Microphone" in 1980

In 1980, former California Governor Ronald Reagan, who was the Republican front-runner for the nomination, lost to George H. W. Bush in the Iowa caucuses. It was a huge upset. Reagan was a giant in the Republican party who nearly swiped the GOP presidential nomination from President Gerald Ford just four years earlier. Were Reagan to lose New Hampshire as well, his campaign would likely have been doomed.

Three days before the New Hampshire primary in 1980, the Nashua Telegraph offered to host a one-on-one debate between Reagan and Bush. When the Federal Election Commission said the newspaper-sponsored debate would violate rules by not including all of the candidates, a desperate Reagan fully funded the event with his own campaign money. Not long before the contest, Reagan invited the other Republican challengers. But upon hearing about Reagan's plans, Bush refused to include them.

The discussion about which candidates should be allowed to participate continued at the event. During the conversation, the newspaper's editor asked the soundman to turn off Reagan's microphone on stage. But Reagan responded: "I am paying for this microphone." The audience, as well as Reagan's Republican primary opponents, cheered after his response.

Reagan credited his remarks for winning him the primary and later the Republican nomination.

Bob Dole Tells George H. W. Bush to "Quit Lying" in 1988

Republican candidate Bob Dole was being interviewed by NBC News on the night of the 1988 New Hampshire primary. The longtime senate Republican won the Iowa caucuses and the incumbent vice president, George H. W. Bush, had come in third and desperately needed to win in the Granite State. Bush's campaign attacked Dole vigorously, saying he'd raise taxes.

During NBC's interview with Dole, Bush sat next to anchor Tom Brokaw inside the New York studio where he was broadcasting from, while Dole was interviewed live in New Hampshire. Brokaw asked Bush if he had anything to say to Dole. Bush wished him well in the next primaries.

But Dole, apparently surprised to see his opponent sitting next to Brokaw, responded to the same question: "Yeah, stop lying about my record." Dole's comment was his response to an advertisement in New Hampshire in which Bush accused him of "straddling" on taxes. Voters' image of Dole, long viewed as one of the angriest men in politics—a reputation that would soften in later years—took a hit and he lost the primary to Bush.

Bill Clinton's Letter on His Draft Deferment During 1992 Primary Season

Bill Clinton's letter on his draft deferment is viewed by historians as a turn in the pages for his sinking presidential campaign in 1992. His former Reserve Officer Training Corps recruiter, Colonel Eugene Holmes, had accused him of manipulation to avoid the Vietnam War draft years before the primary season.

Clinton sidestepped the draft by first receiving education deferments in college and then by enrolling in—but never joining—the ROTC. In the fall of 1969, he entered the draft but received a high number and was never called to serve.

In a letter he wrote to Holmes while he was a Rhodes Scholar at England's Oxford University in December 1969, Clinton described why he had declined to join the ROTC. He cited his "opposition" to the draft and the Vietnam War. He thanked Holmes for "saving" him from the draft, and apologized for misleading him by not disclosing his animosity for the international conflict.

Years later, a week before the New Hampshire primary, the letter was leaked and, at first, it seemed like the death knell of the candidacy for Clinton, who was the governor of Arkansas at the time. But his chief strategist, James Carville, had argued for the letter to be made public because voters, many of whom had opposed the Vietnam War, would relate to Clinton's position and, at the very least, it would show the authentic agonies of a young man wrestling with his conscience as opposed to the "Slick Willie" who his opponents depicted.

Following third place in the Iowa caucuses, Clinton came in second to former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas in the New Hampshire primary. But he spun his defeat into a victory when he declared that the Granite State had made him "the Comeback Kid." He later became the first candidate to be elected president without carrying the primary.