AUTHOR: Slublog DATE: 11/22/2004 09:53:00 AM ----- BODY: 2008 Race Starts - Senator John McCain visits New Hampshire. Because, you know, winning it helped him so much in 2000. I live in Maine, so in 2000 a friend and I went to New Hampshire to help the Bush campaign before the primary. It was cold and mostly unpleasant, although I did get the chance to meet Jeff Greenfield and found him to be a genuinely nice guy. Of course, McCain won New Hampshire big and went on to lose the primaries. In an odd foreshadowing to 2004, the Arizona senator bitterly blamed his loss on the religious conservatives of South Carolina and the rest of the south. His 'concession' speech on the night of the South Carolina primary sticks in my mind as one of the worst political speeches I've ever seen or heard. The media loves to use the South Carolina primary as a bat with which to beat the president, alleging Bush won it through dirty tricks and negative campaigning. It also gives them a chance to paint McCain, their hero, as a victim. Frankly, New Hampshire's weird independence and mystifying voting patterns have made it largely irrelevant to winning the nomination of a major party. Clinton lost there in 1992. Dole lost there in 1996. Bush lost there in 2000. All of them eventually went on to represent their parties in the presidential election. If anything, New Hampshire's primary provides a boot camp of sorts for the candidates. The cold weather, demanding schedules and politically-minded voters are a challenge that only the heartiest and most prepared can survive. For that reason alone, it should keep its place as the first primary, just as long as everyone recognizes its declining importance as a bellwether. --------