Candidates go, leave millions for state economy

By Lois R. Shea, Globe Staff, 2/13/2000

ANCHESTER - They came, they spent.

Boy, did they ever spend.

The 2000 New Hampshire primary is one for the records: John McCain is still cashing in mightily on its political capital, and the state is counting its cash receipts.

For the first time last year, economists attempted to quantify the dollar value of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

In a study commissioned by the Library and Archives of New Hampshire's Political Tradition, economists calculated that the primary is worth $175 million to the state's economy in the year leading up to and immediately following it.

And the 2000 primary, estimates Ross Gittell of the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, may have been worth even more.

''We had two very competitive campaigns I think that made a difference,'' Gittell said, ''So the direct and indirect economic benefits have gone up.''

The quadrennial presidential primary, Gittell said, ''is still a very low percentage of our gross state product. We don't need the first-in-the-nation [primary] for our economy to be strong. Does it help? Yes. Does it put extra dollars into people's pockets? Yes.''

Tight races on both the Democratic and Republican sides led to big advertising buys, and to intense media interest. Campaigns spent $11 million here during the 1996 primary, according to the Library and Archives' report; media and other visitors plopped down an additional $44 million. And the media horde just seems to keep growing.

Once, 57 channels sounded like a lot. Now there are hundreds - and people from all of them show up. The New Hampshire primary is not just a national political story, but an international one, Gittell points out, the first step in electing the man who will become the most powerful leader in the world.

Television crews come from Korea, England and Japan. They come with expense accounts and charge cards and dirty laundry and appetites.

When NBC technicians started to arrive here, they realized with some panic that a lot of their equipment was stranded by the snowstorm that came between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

Petra Guglielmetti, a UNH senior and former Boston Globe intern, was working as a $100-a-day ''runner'' for a division of the network. She was dispatched to Staples with a corporate credit card.

She bought 10 telephones, at $20 apiece, and printer paper. ''They were just sending me over there getting these huge loads of things,'' she said.

The network, she said, had already bought a fax machine and computer printer. And it was probably the rule, not the exception.

''Staples, I think, made a killing,'' said Sean O'Kane, general manager of the Center of New Hampshire Holiday Inn. ''I'm certain they did. We saw the people heading over there in droves, buying up everything they could.''

At the Holiday Inn, networks had three-meal-a-day buffets set up, blocks of rooms, and 200 miles of cables, some running down the side of the building. The Secret Service had a New Hampshire command post set up in a block of three meeting rooms and 25 guest rooms, O'Kane said.

Sales at the Center for New Hampshire - rooms, meals, liquor - were up 181 percent in January over the same span of time leading up to the 1996 primary, O'Kane said. That means the single hotel and convention center did in excess of $1.6 million in one month, O'Kane said.

The biggest beneficiaries - to the tune of 50 percent of the total take - are the hotel and restaurant industries, Gittell said.

The Center of New Hampshire's 250 rooms were all booked two years ago for the 2000 primary; O'Kane said his staff has already begun fielding inquiries from media for space for the 2004 primary.

Gittell said he believes that the media focused even more keenly on New Hampshire because other states have crowded their primaries so close to it that a win or loss in New Hampshire becomes even more critical to the life of a presidential campaign.

New Hampshire gets more than just a quick influx of cash from its position as the nation's political front-runner. The primary is the No. 1 reason New Hampshire gets mentioned in the national and international press, and economists are working to quantify the value of all that press exposure.

In 1996, the Library and Archives' report concluded that New Hampshire stood to reap $25 million from the state's exposure in the national media. The report concluded that 11 percent of the media stories showed New Hampshire in a favorable light and 85 percent were neutral.

Gittell said that for New Hampshire, the positive media reports are also rising.

Slowly but surely, the national press corps have stopped portraying New Hampshire as a snowbound backwater full of stubble-faced men in feed caps.

Last July, Brian Gottlob of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association said that if you asked out-of-state reporters whether they realized New Hampshire had the largest percentage, per-capita of high-tech workers, ''I guarantee they will not know that.''

In one short primary season, that perception of New Hampshire seems to have shifted.

The New York Times and the Christain Science Monitor, among others, published articles during the latest primary season about the ''new'' New Hampshire - a rapidly growing place of high-tech jobs, a well-educated populus, state politics moving toward the center of the spectrum, and rapidly shifting demographics.

''People's perception [of New Hampshire] as ... not on the map as high tech has changed,'' Gittell said.

''I wouldn't want to say that New Hampshire is heavily relying economically on the first-in-the nation primary,'' Gittell said. And while the money is a nice fringe benefit to the state, Gittell said ''that's not why we want to be first.''