On the trail: DeSantis edges Trump in 2024 NH primary poll


For the Monitor

Published: 06-23-2022 4:49 PM

The Granite State’s affection for Donald Trump appears to be wearing thin.

Trump’s decisive 2016 victory over the crowded Republican field in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary once propelled him towards the nomination and eventually the presidency.

These days New Hampshire Republicans are warming to a new star in the GOP,  Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who outperformed Trump in a recent poll.

While Trump – who a year and a half removed from the White House remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP nationally – repeatedly teases with making another presidential run, DeSantis is the new standout here.

According to polling numbers released Wednesday by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, 39% of likely Republican primary voters in the Granite State would support the first-term Florida governor, with 37% backing the former president. Respondents were provided a list of potential contenders for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and no one fared as well as DeSantis.

Former Vice President Mike Pence stood at 9% in the survey, with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, at 6%. The other possible Republican White House hopefuls on the list offered by the pollsters stood at one percent support, or less.

The survey suggests support among New Hampshire Republicans for DeSantis is surging. Trump held a 43%-18% advantage over DeSantis the last time the UNH Survey Center asked a 2024 GOP presidential nomination preference question in October of last year. And Trump topped DeSantis 47%-19% in UNH’s survey conducted last July.

"Trump slipping in pre-primary polls is part of a typical pattern,” UNH Survey Center director Andrew Smith said. "A party’s losing candidate in the prior election is typically the best-known person in the party. As the primary gets closer, new candidates emerge and attract more media attention, and therefore more voter attention, than the losing candidate from the previous election."

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DeSantis has seen his popularity soar among conservative voters from coast to coast over the past two years, thanks in large part to his relentless pushback against coronavirus pandemic restrictions as well as his strong actions , like his "Stop WOKE Act" and punishing Disney for its opposition to Florida’s parental rights bill that was referred to as “Don’t say gay” by its opponents. While DeSantis has repeatedly deflected any discussions regarding a potential bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination as he runs this year for reelection, political pundits see him as a possible White House contender. 

Longtime New Hampshire based national GOP consultant David Carney pointed to the surge in press coverage of DeSantis the past two years.

"It just shows the power of earned media. Being on TV matters and the president’s not on TV as much as he was, and DeSantis went from 18% to 37% over the past year and it’s certainly not from people visiting Florida. It’s because of the power television news," said Carney, a veteran of numerous presidential and statewide campaigns the past couple of decades.

The poll indicates DeSantis with a massive 66% net favorability among likely GOP primary voters, 20 points ahead of Trump’s 46% net favorability. Another Republican politician with possible national ambitions — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem — stood at 35% net favorability. Pence, who recently visited New Hampshire, was underwater at negative 4% net favorability in the survey.

Besides being the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state, New Hampshire is also a perennial general election battleground. Trump lost the state’s four electoral votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by a razor-thin margin in the 2016 election. President Joe Biden won the state by 7 points in the 2020 election.

The poll indicates Biden topping Trump 50%-43% in New Hampshire in a hypothetical 2024 general election matchup, but shows DeSantis edging Biden 47%-46%.

Fight to keep NH first

U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan this week headlined a delegation of top New Hampshire Democrats that made a pitch to national party leaders to keep the Granite State’s much coveted position as the lead-off primary in their party’s presidential nominating calendar.

Shaheen, Hassan, longtime state party chair Ray Buckley and others made their case to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which met in the nation’s capital Wednesday and Thursday to hear the pitches from the 16 states and Puerto Rico, which are all vying to land one of the early voting slots for the DNC’s 2024 presidential nominating calendar.

In April the DNC decided to shake up its longstanding presidential primary and caucus order, that has been led by the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary for half a century. The DNC’s requiring Iowa, New Hampshire, as well as Nevada and South Carolina, which in recent cycles have held the third and fourth contests, to reapply for early state status in the 2024 calendar, and to compete with the other states bidding to move up in the order.

The knock for years against Iowa and New Hampshire among many Democrats has been that the states are too White, lack any major urban areas, and aren’t representative of a Democratic Party that’s become increasingly diverse over the past several decades. The DNC’s putting an emphasis on diversity as well as a state’s competitiveness in general elections as key factors in making their decision.

The New Hampshire delegation noted the modest growth in Black, Hispanic and Asian voters in the Granite State, but showcased its competitiveness in general elections.

"New Hampshire is the very definition of a battleground state. Our electorate is engaged, informed and free-thinking. Granite Staters expertly assess candidates and rely on their interactions with the campaign to make voting decisions," Shaheen emphasized.

Hassan agreed.

“This election is about whether people's voices matter, and the reason the New Hampshire primary got started is because we believe people's voices matter,” Hassan said. “That's why we merit staying first."

The Granite State delegation also pointed to their long history of hosting presidential candidates and their ability as a small state to create an even playing field regardless of a candidate’s resources.

"I'm not saying every state party isn't able to do that…but we do it really well,” Buckley touted.

Shaheen also suggested that losing the state’s cherished primary status could hurt Hassan as she faces a very challenging Senate reelection this year.

"We're seeing a growing narrative that blames Democrats for jeopardizing New Hampshire's first in the nation status," Shaheen noted. "With such a tight Senate race and a newly drawn congressional map, I fear stripping New Hampshire of its long-held position could be consequential."

In an ensuing question-and-answer session, committee members questioned the New Hampshire team about how the state would respond if the committee decided to move it later in the process.

New Hampshire decades ago passed a state law requiring the secretary of state set its presidential primary before any other "similar" contest.

Shaheen noted that Iowa's caucuses are different enough from the New Hampshire primary they don’t trigger that state law, but if another primary were placed ahead of New Hampshire in the 2024 calendar, the election here would likely move up.

"At the end of the day, the state law isn't something that the people of New Hampshire would allow to be changed," Buckley argued. "It’s so much part of the culture. It is so much part of the DNA."

The DNC panel is expected to make its recommendations for the new nominating calendar lineup next month, with the full DNC membership voting on the 2024 calendar when the national party convenes its summer meeting later in the summer.