It’s a staple of modern presidential campaigns: pandering to local sports fans in New Hampshire. Jeb Bush name-drops New England Patriots tight-end Rob Gronkowski in every hamlet. Donald Trump regularly flaunts his bromance with quarterback Tom Brady. Bernie Sanders — a Vermont resident — notes that the Pats are his favorite team. (Dolphins fan Marco Rubio, however, called Brady a "Sith lord" this week.)
But as the Patriots’ Super Bowl chances climb after Saturday's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the odds of a little-considered outcome — with serious potential consequences — is sneaking up on the 2016 set: A victory for the hometown team would tee up a celebratory parade for the same day as the New Hampshire presidential primary.
The Super Bowl is set for Feb. 7, and past Patriots victory parades have traditionally been set for the Tuesday immediately following the game — in this case Feb. 9, the day of the first-in-the-nation primary. The Pats, already reigning Super Bowl champions, held their parade on a Wednesday last year, but only because a Tuesday procession was snuffed out by a snowstorm.
So far, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh — a supporter of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — isn’t prepared to publicly discuss the possibility, which would require the Patriots to win the AFC championship game next weekend to get to the Super Bowl.
“The mayor is focused on one game at a time,” a spokeswoman said.
But New Hampshire political strategists, most of them avowed Patriots fans, do see potential potholes if the primary shares the day with a Super Bowl celebration. Though most noted that the impact of the parade would be small, even a slight dip in turnout could be critical in a state whose outcome could pare down the packed Republican field.
“When a million people show up in Boston, you can figure 30 percent of them or 25 percent of them are from New Hampshire," said Joel Maiola, a New Hampshire adviser to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's campaign.
Four Patriots Super Bowl parades since 2002 have each drawn a million or more spectators, including thousands flocking from New Hampshire for a glimpse of their football heroes. A similar turnout would, for several hours, take potential voters from southern New Hampshire away from their precincts. But that’s not the only impact.
Ryan Williams of FP1 Strategies, a Massachusetts native and devout Pats fan, noted that many of the Boston-based volunteers expected to aid get-out-the-vote efforts could opt for the parade instead. Similarly, New Hampshire residents who commute to work in Boston might plan their day to avoid parade conflicts, which could limit their opportunities to vote.
Maiola joked that if Brady chokes, he just might be throwing the game to keep turnout high for Trump.
“The fix is in,” he said with a laugh. “If we start seeing Brady flopping on the field, we know he’s taking a flop for Donald Trump.”
But Trump, Maiola added, would be the likeliest to see any impact to his numbers on parade day.
“The blue-collar Trump supporter that is thinking about showing up and voting for the first time — this level of inconvenience might have some impact,” he said. “If it were the Red Sox, it’d be all over and people would choose the Red Sox. The marginal voters might pick the parade.”
Trump's campaign declined to comment, but others agreed he would face the likeliest impact from a primary day parade. "It could be a distraction for low-propensity voters who would rather watch football than participate in politics," said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire professor of political science. "Maybe not the best news for Trump."
Maiola and others warned that Sanders might see turnout affected if some of his Boston-based labor supporters pick the Patriots over politics.
Tom Rath, a prominent New Hampshire backer of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, noted that the Super Bowl is set to be played in Santa Clara, Calif., so holding the parade on Wednesday might make more logistical sense to give players time to travel back to Boston — though in previous years, players have booked vacations that would have made a Wednesday parade impossible. But even if the parade isn't moved, he said he thought New Hampshire residents should have enough time to return home and vote before the 8 p.m. poll closing time.
He also noted that a Patriots Super Bowl appearance would drive up TV advertising rates for the final primary weekend in New Hampshire — "at a time when several campaigns will be scrambling" for cash.
Rath, an avid Pats fan, also noted wryly that Kasich is a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan — and if they were to knock out the Patriots next weekend, he might have to contend with some bitter New Englanders as he tries to close the deal in New Hampshire.
Fears of a primary-day Patriots parade aren't unprecedented in New England, though it hasn't affected New Hampshire before. In 2008, when the primary process began earlier and the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, Boston grappled with the likelihood that the parade would coincide with Super Tuesday, the same day Massachusetts voters were slated to go to the polls. The Patriots ultimately lost the game on a last-minute drive by the New York Giants, ending the potential conflict.
Plenty of other unknowns could hamper turnout on primary day this time — a significant snowstorm, for example. And a Patriots loss could put New Hampshire in a dour mood, dampening turnout, some research has shown.
A handful of strategists suggested the impact of a primary day parade would be limited, perhaps even imperceptible. The parade is typically held in the late morning and ends in the early afternoon, an effort to minimize the impact on commuters. Campaigns will be so focused on doing follow-up with voters that they’re unlikely to let a parade-goer slip through the cracks. Committed Pats fans who are also primary voters could find time to do both.
“Do folks come home at 5 p.m. and say it’s too cold out to go vote? Sure,” said one veteran New Hampshire Republican strategist. “But they weren’t motivated to vote anyway.”
Other skeptics said that a parade was more likely to slow the tide of Bostonians traveling to New Hampshire — from labor union foot soldiers to Boston-based politicos.
“Which Democrat, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, pulls more from Patriots nation? Have we polled that yet?” one New-Hampshire-based GOP strategist wondered sarcastically. “This is a logistical issue for Boston, and should not even be a consideration for the campaigns' and candidates’ strategists and organizations in New Hampshire."
He pointed to what he said were "far more important" factors affecting the race: volunteer coordination and get-out-the-vote efforts, the quality of final campaign event, and the candidates' closing messages.
“For these reasons, no one is precluded from rooting for Tom Brady,” he continued. “Go Pats!”