On the trail: The fight to keep NH primary first resumes

  • U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders I-Vt. greets supporters outside the New Hampshire State House on Thursday, October 31, 2019. Sanders held a rally after filing for the primary at the Secretary of State office earlier in the day. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Published: 3/25/2022 4:38:51 PM

New Hampshire’s century-old position as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state will come under scrutiny Monday.

That’s when the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee - which oversees the party’s presidential nominating calendar – holds its next meeting.

Ahead of that meeting, some DNC members circulated a draft proposal that would require states to apply in order to keep or gain early state status in the Democrats’ nominating schedule.

New Hampshire has historically held the second contest in both the Democratic and Republican Party schedules, following the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire’s cherished position in the White House race is protected by state law. Nevada and South Carolina follow New Hampshire as the final two of the four carve-out states – which are allowed to hold their nominating contests before March during a presidential election year.

The knock for years against Iowa and New Hampshire among many Democrats has been that the states 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 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 with an aim to move the contest to the leadoff position in the race for the White House, ahead of both 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.

Iowa’s leadoff status faced scrutiny earlier this month at the DNC’s winter meetings, as many members who spoke were clearly open to reordering the presidential nominating calendar to better reflect the party’s growing diversity and values.

Among those speaking at the meeting was DNC member Mo Elleithee, who’s long been a proponent of shaking up the calendar. He emphasized there’s a need for changes, “not four years from now — now.”

“I think states like New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can make a compelling argument as to how they fit into that picture,” Elleithee said. “I have a harder time seeing it with Iowa, but Iowa should have the right to make that case to us.”

The proposal that will be discussed on Monday, which was first reported by the Washington Post, calls for allowing no more than five states into the early pre-March window. And it lays out major “pillars” by which the states applying to vote early will be considered. They include the state’s ethnic and geographic diversity, as well how competitive those states are in general elections.

Among others, longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley is getting ready to fight to keep the Granite State’s presidential primary first.

“The conversation about the early states happens every four years and this year is no different,” Buckley noted in a statement.

Presidential candidates coming here typically engage in small-scale politicking – such as house parties and town halls – and meet voters face to face.

“New Hampshire is one of the last places where retail politics reigns,” Buckley said. “It’s not about TV ads or paid mail, it’s about one-on-one conversations and building an operation that connects with people where they are. Successful candidates come out of New Hampshire stronger for having been here and ready for the fight ahead.”

“This is what presidents have experienced for generations, and it is why New Hampshire will retain its first-in-the-nation primary in 2024 and beyond,” he said.

But the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s recent track record in picking the presidential nominee is nothing to brag about.

President Joe Biden came in a disappointing fifth in the 2020 Democratic primary; in 2016 eventual presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was defeated in a landslide by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the primary; and before that Clinton defeated then-Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 primary.

The last time the eventual Democratic nominee carried the state was back in 2004, when then-Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won the primary.

The GOP primary has had a better track record of late. Former President Donald Trump crushed a large field of rivals in February 2016, his first victory enroute to the Republican nomination and eventually the White House. Then-former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney easily carried the state in 2012 along the path to becoming his party’s standard bearer. And the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona won the state in 2008 on his way to winning the Republican nomination.

The last time an eventual Republican nominee failed to win the New Hampshire primary was in 2000, when McCain rode his “Straight Talk Express” to victory over former President George W. Bush, who at the time was Texas governor.

While the DNC once again seriously considers revamping its nominating calendar, there appears to be very little appetite for the rival Republican National Committee to make changes. At the party’s winter meeting in February, a RNC panel unanimously approved a report that makes no changes to the traditional top of the party’s presidential nominating calendar.

The committee was headed by Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann, and the panel also included New Hampshire Republican State Committee chair Steve Stepanek and the chairs of the South Carolina and Nevada GOPs.

Final decisions for both of the major parties’ 2024 calendars are expected during the RNC and DNC summer meetings.

2024 traffic inNew Hampshire

There’s no letup in former President Donald Trump’s repeated signals that he’s seriously mulling another White House run in 2024.

But that’s not preventing other potential GOP presidential contenders from paying visits to the four early voting primary and caucus states.

Last year there were 15 trips to Iowa by nine potential Republican presidential contenders, not far off from the 17 visits by 11 possible candidates in 2013, the first year in the wide-open 2016 GOP presidential race. And there were eight visits to New Hampshire in 2021 by six potential contenders, close to the 11 visits by seven possible candidates in 2013.

The GOP visits resumed on Monday, as former two-term New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie headlined the first edition in the 2024 cycle of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics ‘Politics and Eggs’ speaking series – a must stop for White House hopefuls.

During his 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination, Christie placed all his chips on New Hampshire, and he suspended his campaign after a distant sixth-place finish in the primary.

Christie told reporters that he’ll return to New Hampshire later this year to campaign for Matt Mowers, a former Christie campaign alum who later worked on the Trump 2016 campaign and served in the State Department during Trump’s administration who’s now running a second straight time for Congress in the Granite State.

He said he’d make a decision on whether he’ll launch a second White House run sometime between the end of this year and early in 2023. But during a revealing moment at his “Politics and Eggs” appearance, Christie said “my father turns 89 next month and he says he’s ready. If he’s ready, I may have a hard time saying no to him.”

Next up in New Hampshire among the potential 2024 Republican presidential contenders is former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration. Haley visits the Granite State on Monday, April 4, to help raise money and campaign with Mowers, and to headline a fundraiser for state House Republicans.

Three days later, on Thursday April 7, Mike Pompeo comes to New Hampshire. The former congressman from Kansas who served as CIA director and later Secretary of State under Trump, headlines the Hillsborough County GOP’s annual Lincoln Reagan fundraising gala, which is being held at the Doubletree Hotel in Manchester.

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