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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bill Clinton Lost Iowa and New Hampshire Primaries

Q: How many have become president after losing both in Iowa and New Hampshire?

A: In the current system, only Bill Clinton, though others have lost one or the other.


How many candidates have lost in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary before going on to win their party’s nomination and eventually the presidency?


Since the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary came to national prominence as the first two contests in the modern presidential nomination system in 1972, the only candidate to lose both and go on to win the presidency is Bill Clinton.

In 1992, Clinton garnered only 2.8 percent of the caucus vote, which was won by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Because Harkin had a clear home-state advantage, other candidates passed up Iowa that year, making New Hampshire the first real voter test of the Democratic field. But Clinton also lost the New Hampshire primary, to Sen. Paul Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts. Clinton eventually recovered in time to win the Democratic nomination, dubbing himself the “comeback kid.”

Others have lost one or the other contest on the way to the White House, but not both. George W. Bush; his father, George H.W. Bush; and Ronald Reagan all lost one of the two early states in 2000, 1988 and 1980, respectively. In fact, of the nine election cycles of the modern presidential selection system, only in 2004 and 1976 did both major party nominees sweep the early states.

Presidential candidates who lost in Iowa or New Hampshire but still won their party’s nomination:

  • In 2000, George W. Bush lost the New Hampshire Republican primary to Sen. John McCain.
  • In 1996, Bob Dole lost the New Hampshire Republican primary to Pat Buchanan.
  • In 1988, George H.W. Bush lost the Iowa caucus to Bob Dole.
  • Also in 1988, Michael Dukakis lost in Iowa to Richard Gephardt before getting the Democratic nomination.
  • In 1984, Walter Mondale lost the Democratic New Hampshire primary to Gary Hart.
  • In 1980, Ronald Reagan lost in Iowa to George H.W. Bush.
  • In 1972, George McGovern lost in both Iowa and New Hampshire to Edmund Muskie before becoming the Democratic nominee.


“About the Caucus,” Iowa Caucus 2008 Web site. Accessed 19 Dec. 2007.

Past Iowa Caucus Results,” Iowa Votes 2008 Web site. Accessed 19 Dec. 2007.

Past New Hampshire Primary Election Results,” Primary: New Hampshire Web site. Accessed 19 Dec. 2007.
“Past Primary: History,” New Hampshire Political Library Web site. Accessed 19 Dec. 2007

Historically a First Step to the White House,” News Hour Online.  PBS. Accessed 19 Dec. 2007.