Regional Supporters, Others Analyze Bush Defeat in NH

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

Boston, MA ( - New England supporters of Texas Governor George W Bush are working overtime in an effort to explain the double-digit loss their man suffered at the hands of Arizona Senator John McCain in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci essentially characterized the McCain win as a fluke. "New Hampshire just likes to upset the apple cart."

"McCain practically moved to New Hampshire," said the two-term Bay State governor. "It was like he was running for governor of New Hampshire."

Cellucci, who frequently brags about knowing Bush for two decades and who endorsed the Texan's run even before he officially announced, heads the Bush campaign in Massachusetts. On primary day, as voters were moving away from his candidate, Cellucci spent the entire day on Tuesday campaigning for his man in the Granite State.

While the governor tried to minimize the McCain showing in New Hampshire, longtime New Hampshire political analyst and former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath offered a different take on McCain's showing.

Rath, who became a trusted Bush advisor after his first choice, Lamar Alexander, quit the race after a dismal showing in the Iowa straw poll, said this week, "We were too protective of him. We should have let him run a little bit more and given him a little more room."

Rath, the Republican National Committeeman from New Hampshire, insisted throughout the campaign that Bush was no shoe-in and that the race would be tight. "We were beaten. There is no other way to describe what happened. They ran a very good campaign. They were very aggressive. They knew what they wanted to do, and they did it."

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Steve Duprey said Bush didn't have enough opportunities to talk with voters, a surprising conclusion, since the Texan tended to draw huge crowds at which he generally reverted to his stump speech and said little of substance. "In retrospect, I think he was over-handled and over-scripted."

Clark Hubbard, a University of New Hampshire political science professor, said the notion that Bush was the inevitable nominee of the party and could not lose in New Hampshire may have angered voters. They may have "caught a whiff of entitlement" in the Bush effort. "I think Governor Bush really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way here and, if he doesn't fix it, he's going to be in a lot of trouble later on."

"What George W never quite figured out is that Judd Gregg has only one vote. He relied to heavily on the so-called vaunted Gregg machine and hoped it could bail out a pretty mediocre effort," said one long-time New Hampshire Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "By and large, Bush avoided talking about issues. By and large, McCain didn't. Those town meetings exposed him to thousands of voters whose questions he readily took (and answered directly). If the Bush people are smart, they will admit they took this place for granted and ran a poor campaign. He needs to learn that before South Carolina goes to the polls."

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office has tallied the number of primary voters and come up with a record turnout. William Gardner said 393,245 Granite State voters cast ballots on February 1st. The final figure includes 238,606 people voting in the Republican contest and 154,639 in the Democratic race.

New Hampshire has a total of 738,000 registered voters of which nearly half declare themselves as Independents.