Eisenhower Enters the Race: A Look at the New Hampshire Primary 60 Years Ago

Today’s primary in New Hampshire, the first official primary of the presidential election season, marks 60 years of the modern primary. In 1952, the year Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, New Hampshire adopted the new procedure that turned an inconsequential event into an influential and revealing election. Although the first primary in the United States was held in 1913, most primaries before 1952 were non-binding tests of voter preference and had no direct bearing on the official presidential nomination. However, in 1952, New Hampshire began a direct voting process, soliciting the opinion of every citizen in a binding primary election that became known, according to President Johnson, as a place where “anyone can run and everybody can win.”

Leading up to the 1952 primary season, Dwight Eisenhower was stationed in Europe as a NATO commander with no intention of running for any political office. Nevertheless, the same sense of duty that convinced Eisenhower to leave his role as President of Columbia University to take the military position called him to his eventual career as a two term American president.

Originally, primary elections were not the theatrical, media heavy events they are today. At the time of the New Hampshire primary on March 11, 1952, Eisenhower had not visited the state and, in fact, had not yet even officially announced his intention to seek presidential office. All winter, Eisenhower’s campaign was led entirely by friends and supporters who believed in his ability to lead. Upon defeating Robert Taft, the favored nominee nicknamed “Mr. Republican,” 50% to 38%, he accepted the public’s calling and announced his candidacy, saying, “Any American who would have that many other Americans pay him that compliment would be proud or he would not be an American.”

Today the New Hampshire primary is held in early January, earlier than its original date of the second Tuesday in March. With ever increasing media attention, the primary garners much more attention than it did in its early days, but the political import of the event has long been significant. By serving as a test of viability for many candidates, the results of the New Hampshire primary have widespread effects, causing some candidates to drop out and others to expand their campaigns with renewed confidence. 60 years after voters shocked Eisenhower with their support and faith, Americans across the country are watching to see what today’s election will say about the 2012 presidential race.