On the trail: Two weeks until DNC vote on presidential primary


For the Monitor

Published: 01-21-2023 5:01 PM

Time is running out for New Hampshire Democrats in their campaign to keep the Granite State’s cherished first-in-the-nation presidential primary status in the Democratic National Committee’s nominating calendar for 2024.

The full DNC is scheduled to vote in two weeks – on Saturday, Feb. 4 – on a proposal by President Joe Biden to upend the party’s primary calendar, as the national party committee holds its annual winter meeting, which is being held this year in Philadelphia.

But longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley says the fight will go on – even after the DNC’s likely vote to bump New Hampshire from its century-long position of holding the first primary.

“In politics, a year is a lifetime, many lifetimes,” Buckley told the Monitor as he pointed to the time between next month’s DNC vote, and the start of the 2024 primary calendar one year later.

“A lot of things can change, and we will continue to state our case and encourage the president to reconsider and to move forward in a way that benefits everybody,” Buckley emphasized.

New Hampshire for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House, and for the past half-century it’s held the second contest in both major political party’s presidential nominating calendars, following the Iowa caucuses.

But for years, plenty of Democrats have knocked Iowa and New Hampshire as unrepresentative of the party as a whole for being largely white with few major urban areas. Nevada and South Carolina, which in recent cycles have voted third and fourth in the calendar, are much more diverse than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

While Republicans are making no changes to the top of the 2024 nominating calendar, the DNC is shaking things up. Their proposal, which cleared a key first hurdle when it was overwhelmingly approved last month by the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, moves South Carolina to the leadoff position in the Democrats’ primary calendar, on Feb. 3, 2024, with New Hampshire and Nevada holding primaries three days later, followed by Georgia and Michigan. National Democratic insiders say the plan, proposed by the president, is expected to be approved by the full DNC membership when they gather in Philadelphia.

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The DNC is also insisting that New Hampshire, in order to keep its early voting slot in the new calendar, needs to scrap a nearly five-decades-old state law that protects its first-in-the-nation primary status and must expand legislation to expand access to early voting. With Republicans in control of the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature, that’s a non-starter in New Hampshire.

That means the DNC could penalize New Hampshire and any candidates that take part in the Granite State’s Democratic presidential primary for violating the party’s new calendar. Gov. Chris Sununu has repeatedly slammed Biden and the DNC and on Wednesday reiterated that “we’re going first no matter what.”

Buckley emphasized that ”we applaud his [President Biden’s] efforts to elevate Black voters. We are very supportive of that effort. But you can elevate Black and Latino voices without jumping over New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire Democrats launched a full-court press following the announcement of the president’s proposal and have been successful in grabbing plenty of national media attention over the past two months.

Their most recent volley, a letter signed by some 20 prominent Granite State Democrats, including some of the president’s oldest friends and most enduring supporters over the decades, dating back to his first White House run in 1988. Among those who put their signatures to the letter are former NH Supreme Court chief justice John Broderick, former Ambassador Terry Shumaker, longtime state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, state Rep. Steve Shurtleff, a former state House speaker, and former Gov. John Lynch, Biden’s most visible surrogate in New Hampshire in the 2020 campaign.

The letter reiterates a frequently voiced argument, that the move by the DNC is a gift to Republicans and will hurt Democrats in the key northeastern general election battleground state in 2024, when the governorship, both U.S. House seats, and majorities in the state House and Senate are up for grabs.

And there’s a warning about Biden’s own re-election chances.

”We also fear – if you decline to file in the New Hampshire primary – that you may lose the first presidential primary of 2024, create an unnecessary distraction for your campaign, and diminish your great record over the past two years,” the Democrats write. “Regardless of what the DNC decides, state law ensures that our primary will continue to go first, thereby giving an opportunity for another candidate to file here and capitalize on the growing anger toward national Democrats. It is safe to say that this is likely not how you would like to kick off your re-election and it would only fuel chatter that Democrats are divided and in disarray.”

In an opinion piece, Michael Graham, editor of the conservative-leaning New Hampshire Journal, argued that with the Democrats holding a fragile 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate, New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators – Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan – should use votes as leverage against the president in order to protect the primary.

“I don’t think we need to do something like that,” Buckley responded when asked about the opinion piece. “Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are very focused and very serious about delivering for the people…Let’s continue to do good things for the American people and the people of the Granite State.”

“Maybe as a last resort but I don’t think we need to do anything like that,” the chairman added.

But Buckley stressed that “we’re going to have the primary and the only question is whether the president is going to participate.”