Write-In Candidates

By Luke Anastasiades ‘21 | October 30, 2020

Write-in Agnew Too bumper sticker, 1972, Peter J. Booras collection, New Hampshire Political Library Archives

Write-in candidates are among the distinct features of New Hampshire’s first in the nation political tradition. Upon first glance, these improvised choices seem irrelevant, and hardly in a position for success, similar to third-party candidates. However, a look back to 1956, 1964, and 1972 elections, each demonstrate an improbable New Hampshire Presidential Primary victory and record-breaking write-in votes.

In 1956, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was running for a second presidential term. Over the course of that first term, the pairing of Eisenhower and Richard Nixon was falling apart, and as a result Nixon had decided to leave the ticket and not run again. However, in the spring of 1956, the New Hampshire primary was coming to a close, Nixon had been written-in for an almost 23,000-vote victory and the nomination for Vice President. The effort was an unsolicited volunteer effort. This vote also gave support to Eisenhower and broke the state write-in record. Thus, Nixon ended up joining the ticket, and winning in November. This would not be the first consequential unsolicited write-in effort.

Then, in 1964 Henry Cabot Lodge Jr was in Saigon as the U.S. Ambassador with the presidential race far out of his mind. At the time, the two front runners were Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller. However, to the surprise of many, the March 10 New Hampshire Primary did not prefer either of them. Rather Lodge took the Primary through a professional but unsolicited write-in vote tallying to 33,000, and broke the State record. However, despite Lodge being thousands of miles away and not ascending to the general election, he claimed victory. Thus, again the New Hampshire Primary was decided by an unsolicited write-in campaign.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was running for his second term in office and the vice president, Spiro Agnew was not looking to join the ticket again, satisfied with leaving public life. However, once again the New Hampshire primaries derailed this when Agnew won as a write-in candidate. This time, Peter Booras, a local business owner from Keene NH who ran a greeting card publishing company called Yankee Artists Inc, both conceived and led the volunteer write-in effort. It garnered 45,000 votes at the ballot box, breaking the state record, and was more votes than any other candidate on the ballot save Nixon himself. Also, this effort placed Agnew on the republican ticket, leading to a victory in November. Thus, another unsolicited write-in effort put a vice-presidential candidate back on the ballot.

It seems these write-in candidates, and the campaigns for them, have proven to be both viable and consequential. What do you think about write-in candidates? Do you think any such strong grassroots write-in campaigns could arise in 2020?