Remembering primaries past

Like Simon and Garfunkel’s "Sound of Silence," a hush has finally settled over the Granite State. The circus that is the New Hampshire primary is over, and the clowns have moved on. Well, at least until 2020.

I’ve long believed the best part of New Hampshire’s "first in the nation" primary is when it’s over. Not that the New Hampshire primary isn’t important – if not colorful – but does it really warrant all the attention it gets every four years?

The Granite State is hardly an accurate barometer for predicting who will ultimately be elected president. The last time a New Hampshire primary winner went on to win the presidency was George H.W. Bush in 1988.

I was born during Harry S. Truman’s presidency, but the first president I remember is Dwight "we like Ike" Eisenhower.

I was too young to remember much about his tenure, but I do remember the 1960 election clearly. I mean, John F. Kennedy even launched his presidential campaign from the steps of Nashua City Hall.

Religion became an issue in that race. Much was made about Kennedy being a Catholic. No Catholic had ever been elected to the White House before 1960. I recall a priest telling his flock during a sermon at Infant Jesus Church that they had to vote for JFK "because he’s Catholic." Forget about issues – being Catholic was good enough, according to the pastor. And many people did vote for him solely for that reason.

Richard Nixon, who was Eisenhower’s vice president, was the Republican candidate for president that year. The first-ever nationally televised presidential debates played a major role in sinking Nixon’s bid for the White House.

Nixon, who passed on make-up, looked old, tired and was visibly sweating under the harsh studio lighting. On the other hand, Kennedy appeared young and was good looking. And he wore make-up to soften the effects of the lighting and keep the sweating in check. Had Nixon worn make-up, he might have won.

Nashua also had a favorite son, named Norman LePage, seeking the presidency in the 1960 primary and again in 1964. LePage was an accountant from the Gate City. According to primary results reported in the March 9, 1960, Telegraph, LePage collected 305 votes in a field that included Nixon and Nelson A. Rockefeller. LePage didn’t fare much better in 1964.

To be honest, my folks found humor in LePage’s attempts to become president. In retrospect, I’m almost inspired by him to have a go myself before I pass from this life. I mean, it would be cool to see my obit mention I was a former candidate for United States president. Then again, I won’t be around to enjoy the laugh, so perhaps I’ll scratch it off my bucket list.

But the 1964 election, pitting Conservative Republican Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater against Lyndon Johnson, is the one that sparked my interest in politics. Kennedy had been murdered in Dallas scarcely one year before the November election. His assassination resulted in Johnson ascending from vice president to president on Nov. 22, 1963.

My dad attended a Goldwater gathering in downtown Nashua one night and I tagged along with him. I left with an "AuH20 for President" button and other goodies. If Goldwater was good enough for my dad, he was good enough for me. Unfortunately, Johnson crushed Goldwater in the election.

Johnson’s mishandling of the Vietnam War is a matter of record. But at the time of the 1964 presidential campaign, Johnson succeeded in labeling Goldwater a "war monger" for openly saying if he became president, he would go all in, fight the war like a war should be fought, and get it done.

We’ll never know what might have happened in Vietnam had Goldwater succeeded in winning the election and doing what he promised, but I find it ironic that Johnson’s handling of that war ultimately led to his withdrawal from a re-election bid four years later, and opened the door for Nixon, who lost to Kennedy in 1960, to win election to the White House in 1968.

Not much has really changed between then and now. I’ve lived through the terms of a dozen presidents (and counting). Some were better than others and some worse. Some are almost forgettable.

Whether we like the field of primary candidates or not, at least "we the people" have a say in this democratic process. New Hampshire’s role in the process may appear overrated, but you can’t deny this simple fact: The New Hampshire primary is evidence that every vote in every state, big or small, does matter.

Nashua native Paul Sylvain lives and writes from his home in Summerville, S.C. His column appears on the second Sunday of the month. Paul may be reached at PSylvain.Telegraph@yahoo.com.