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N.H.’s first-in-the-nation primary likely safe under Trump

  • A Trump supporter holds up his phone during the Presidential Inauguration on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Thousands of people watch President Trump get sworn in on Friday. Many who were at the inauguration ceremony said that the election system – including the New Hampshire primary – works well, even if Granite Staters get more access to candidates than voters in other states. Elodie Reed / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, January 20, 2017

Donald Trump often reminded his rally crowds in Portsmouth, Laconia and elsewhere last fall that New Hampshire voters gave him his first win.

Claiming the prize of his final win – the White House – during Friday’s inauguration, President Trump officially closed another election cycle where Granite Staters got first vetting privileges.

Most people don’t think that will change the next time around, including Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey.

“I am extraordinarily confident the New Hampshire primary is not in serious danger,” he said this week.

In July, Duprey and other Republican officials adopted rules at the Republican National Convention that secured New Hampshire as an early primary state in 2020. An 11-member study committee was approved as a concession, though any recommendations would need a 75 percent vote to pass.

Now, Duprey said he’s almost sure he’ll get a seat on that committee, and even then, its study will likely be more of a formality after Trump – and Republicans generally – won big in November.

“(Trump) has said a number of times in the general election that New Hampshire would always remain first,” Duprey said. “I think the New Hampshire primary is in good shape.”

New Hampshire as the first-in-the-nation state went over well with people attending Friday’s inauguration, people from Arkansas, Indianna, California, Ohio and Virginia,

“You guys do it whichever way you want to do it,” Scott Kendall, a railroad worker from Arkansas, said. “It don’t make no hill of beans. You guys pave the way.”

Laura Kendall, a nurse, said she thought New Hampshire was what started Donald Trump’s momentum that eventually garnered him the election.

“It was significant,” she said.

Green County Republican chairman Robert Wood of Ohio said he saw New Hampshire as part of the “gauntlet” a presidential candidate has to make it through.

“If you’re going to represent the United States of America, you need to be able to play from sea to shining sea,” Wood said.

Of course, people might be feeling differently if Hillary Clinton was sworn in Friday. At least that’s what Elaine Kamarck, Brookings Senior Fellow and author of “Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know About How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates,” thinks.

“I think had Trump lost the general election, I think there would have been a bigger critique of the whole primary system than there is now,” Kamarck said. “It would have come from Republicans who were appalled this guy was doing so well with no experience.”

But even then, Kamarck said New Hampshire would still likely survive as an early testing ground if, say, the primaries went back to a more party- controlled process.

“They would still want a place to test candidates with voters,” Kamarck said. “Everyone who sees a New Hampshire town hall with a candidate is really impressed with the sincerity and the knowledge of the voters.”

After this election, however, University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala said non-Granite Staters could contest the mythic element of the New Hampshire primary: that they force candidates to do retail politics, shake hands, kiss babies and get grilled by gruff Yankees.

“I think that took some significant damage in the last cycle,” Scala said.

The two winners of the New Hampshire primary – Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – held larger events and tended towards speeches, as opposed to question-and-answer town halls.

Any sort of history was a bad guide to this most recent election, Scala said.

“I think from the point-of-view of political elites, we tend to dwell on the time honored, historic aspects of the primary and how the primary has become a venerable tradition,” Scala said. “We tend to ignore the fact that really the primary is very democratic with a small ‘d.’ Its very rowdy – it can be very unpredictable, very populist.”

And there are people who would prefer a more populist vote.

“We’re from California, so we don’t ever feel like we have a vote,” Nicole Canada, 49, said Friday. “I’d like to see more of the general population participate.”

But there are staunch guardians of the New Hampshire primary like Secretary of State Bill Gardner who said the uncertainty and upset of the 2016 election is why traditions and political institutions are needed.

“There’s a reason why we’ve lasted as long as we’ve lasted as a free society. It’s not common,” he said. “There are institutions that have been the reason for it and makes us different than other western democracies.”

Standing in front of perhaps the grandest symbol of American political institution – the peaceful transfer of power at Friday’s inauguration – Carolyn Flynn of Indianna agreed.

“Why not keep some tradition?” she asked. “Why not let a state that believes in freedom – that’s what we want leading the pack.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)