On the trail: N.H. faces 'very real' threat to first-in-the-nation presidential primary

  • Concord city worker Ed Bisson sets up the voting booths at Ward 8 at the Bektash Shrine Center on Pembroke Road in Concord on Friday morning, September 4, 2020 in anticipation of Tuesday's primary voting.

  • A sticker that lost its jacket outside the polls at Hanover High School on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

For the Monitor
Published: 4/15/2022 9:07:51 AM

New Hampshire’s fight to maintain its first-in-the-nation presidential primary has been waged for decades, but the most recent hurdles are getting higher and the stakes more significant.

This time around, the Democratic National Committee took a major step Wednesday to upend the longstanding presidential primary and caucus calendar that has been led by Iowa and New Hampshire.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to require those two states, as well as Nevada and South Carolina, which hold the third and fourth contests in the DNC’s schedule, to reapply for early state status in the 2024 calendar. Other states that are interested in moving up to the top of the calendar may also apply.

Democrats were quick to downplay the move by members of their own party.

“There is a serious threat to the primary every four years,” said Kathy Sullivan, former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and a longtime DNC committee member. “Sometimes it is behind the scenes and the public doesn't know about it. Sometimes it is out in the open. Yet it survives.”

Members of the state’s all-Democrat congressional delegation also quickly vowed to fight to protect the attention, visibility, and economic stimulus that holding the first presidential primary brings to New Hampshire every four years.

“New Hampshire has held the First In The Nation primary for over 100 years, and that's not going to change. We've defended our primary before and we will do it again,” Sen. Maggie Hassan wrote in a statement.

But Steve Duprey, who served as New Hampshire GOP chair during the 1990’s and early 2000’s and is a former longtime Republican National Committee member, told the Monitor that “the threat posed by the Democratic National Committee is very real.”

He urged the state’s leading Democrats to take swift action.

“In the past when the ball's been in our court, our Democratic counterparts have encouraged us to do our best to save the primary and I think all Republicans are asking (New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair) Ray Buckley and Sens.[Jeanne] Shaheen and Hassan to do what's necessary to save the first-in-the-nation primary this time. But the threat is very real.”

The knock for years against Iowa and New Hampshire among many national Democrats has been that they are too White, lack any major urban areas, and aren’t representative of a Democratic Party that’s become increasingly diverse over the past several decades. Nevada and South Carolina are much more diverse than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

Complicating matters, Nevada Democrats last year passed a bill into law that would transform the state’s presidential caucus into a primary and aim to move the contest to the leadoff position in the race for the White House, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. Compounding Iowa's issues was the botched reporting of the 2020 caucuses, which became a national and international story and an embarrassment for Iowa Democrats as well as the DNC.

The move by the Rules and Bylaws Committee will now require states hoping to retain or earn early state status to submit a letter of intent no later than May 6, with a formal application due a month later. Those states will make their presentations to the committee in late June, with the panel making its recommendations for the new nominating calendar lineup by early July. The full DNC membership will vote on the 2024 calendar when the national party convenes its summer meeting later in the summer.

Besides the four current four early voting states, Michigan and New Jersey have indicated that they’ll apply for carve-out status.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee’s plan includes factors that it will take into consideration as it decides which states will go first in the 2024 calendar. They include racial, ethnic, and regional diversity, a state’s mix of urban, suburban, and rural voters, and a state’s competitiveness in general elections.

Troy Price, the executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, asserted in a statement that New Hampshire will retain its position in the calendar.

"New Hampshire has a great story to tell, and we look forward to sharing that in the coming weeks and months," he said. "But, make no mistake, New Hampshire will retain its first-in-the-nation primary," he said.

It’s not just tradition that keeps the primary first.

State law mandates that the Granite State’s primary be held “7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election,” and gives the secretary of state the power to move the date of the primary earlier in order to maintain that New Hampshire holds the first primary.

While the DNC pushes to alter its nominating calendar, there’s been no such move at the rival RNC. A Republican panel overseeing the nominating calendar voted during the national party’s winter meeting in early February to make no changes to the current schedule. 

The panel was headed by Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann and included New Hampshire chair Steve Stepanek, as well as the South Carolina and Nevada state Republican party chairs. The full RNC membership voted on Thursday, at their spring meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, to approve their 2024 calendar.

Stepanek, in a statement after the DNC’s move, said that “political parties on both sides of the aisle have stood united in preserving this political process for future generations to follow.”

President Joe Biden has said multiple times over the past year that if his health remains solid, he’ll seek a second term in 2024. If that’s the case, it’s extremely doubtful there would be a contested Democratic nominating process. But if Biden eventually declines to run for reelection, a full-blown primary – with Vice President Kamala Harris as the likely frontrunner – would likely evolve.

As the formal head of the Democratic Party, Biden may also weigh in on the move by the DNC to upend the nominating calendar. And the president may face questions about New Hampshire’s primary status when he returns to the Granite State on Tuesday, to promote one of his top domestic achievements, the massive bipartisan infrastructure law.

Biden finished a disappointing fifth in New Hampshire’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary, before rebounding with a second-place finish in Nevada and a landslide victory in South Carolina, which boosted him towards the nomination, and eventually the White House.

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