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Editorial: The primary is having a big birthday. Let’s celebrate!

If you’re a fan of New Hampshire politics, surely you know about the exciting presidential primary of 2008, the one that pitted Democrat Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton. Perhaps you paid attention in 2000, when Republican John McCain battled George W. Bush. If you’re a history buff, you’ve probably heard about 1952, the moment when the state first asserted its power to put candidates through their paces and upend the smug predictions of know-it-all prognosticators.

But have you heard about the all-important New Hampshire primary of 1916? Turns out, that was the true start to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation tradition (shall we say religion?), and state officials are just starting to plan a big celebration for the 100th birthday in 2016. Step 1, of course: form a committee! State House leaders have filed legislation to do just that. Assuming that this is something even the most fractious lawmakers will be able to quickly agree on, what should the anniversary commemoration include?

Here are a few ideas to kick things off.

1. New Hampshire should hold an event honoring Stephen Bullock. Never heard of him? Well, that’s the point. Bullock, a poultry farmer from Richmond, was the legislator who drafted the bill that created the New Hampshire primary, with voting in March. He wanted voters, rather than party bosses, to pick the candidates. Two other states had similar ideas, but Minnesota switched to a caucus, and Indiana shifted its primary to late spring. As a result: New Hampshire has been first in the nation ever since. Bullock’s name has largely been forgotten. Now’s the time to change that.

2. Once New Hampshire has reminded the world about Bullock, how about a celebration of the others who have worked to keep the tradition alive? They include former governor Hugh Gregg, a chronicler of the contest; former House speaker Richard Upton, who turned the event into a political extravaganza by having voters pick candidates, rather than delegates; and Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who fends off quadrennial challenges to the state’s first-in-the-nation status.

3. Invite some winners from campaigns past. McCain is a giant fan of the primary. So are the Clintons. The Bushes, no doubt, have a love-hate relationship with the institution. Is it even possible that Pat Buchanan won the GOP primary here in 1996? Indeed it is. An event with old-timers reminiscing about past glories would be fun.

4. Celebrate the also-rans. We’re not just talking about the Howard Deans and Mike Huckabees. Create an event celebrating the fringiest of the fringe, the ones who give the primary a big boost of color every four years. Remember Caroline Killeen, the Hemp Lady? Remember Bill Joe Clegg (Slogan: Clegg will not pull your leg)? How about Richard Bosa, a onetime mayor of Berlin who received 349 votes for president in 1992, 216 in 1996.

5. And after a fringe fest, we’ll need something more serious: an event in which provocative speakers might analyze the biggest moments in primary history, among them: Ed Muskie’s 1972 tears in the snow, Hillary Clinton’s tears 36 years later, Eugene McCarthy’s pressuring Lyndon Johnson out of the race.

6. Involve students. The primary is one big civics lesson – teachers might as well take advantage of it. Could the official celebration include an essay contest or a dramatic reading competition? Bill Clinton’s “Comeback Kid” riff or Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech would be good places to start.

7. Create a lasting memento – a book or a film, rich in photography about the primary’s critical moments and offbeat events. Remember when Ronald Reagan took charge of that microphone? When the sitting president, George H.W. Bush, had to convince recession-weary residents that he really did care? When Paul Tsongas went swimming?

We can understand why the Michigans and Delawares of this world have so often tried to swipe our first-in-the-nation status. All the more reason for us to celebrate and cherish it.

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