No end in fight to keep New Hampshire primary first

  • Steve Duprey, the veteran New Hampshire member on the Republican National Committee, said he’s confident the Granite State will keep its place in the 2020 cycle. Monitor file

For the Monitor
Monday, November 20, 2017

The fight to keep New Hampshire first-in-the-nation never seems to end, Steve Duprey says.

The veteran New Hampshire member on the Republican National Committee was describing his quadrennial battle to keep the state’s primary first in line in the GOP nominating calendar.

Duprey, a former Republican state party chairman, sat down with the Monitor a couple of days after returning from a meeting of the RNC’s Presidential Nominating Process Committee. That panel is tasked with reviewing the GOP primary calendar rules and recommending changes.

Duprey said there was no serious talk at the meeting of changing the current calendar for the so-called carve out states, which vote first in the race for the White House. Iowa has traditionally held the first caucus, with New Hampshire coming second in the process and holding the first primary. Nevada and South Carolina traditionally follow. Duprey said there was a suggestion to allow another state to vote after South Carolina, but before March 1, when the rest of the states are currently allowed to begin holding contests.

“My sense is there is not a strong appetite for that, but we’ll have to watch that,” Duprey said.

Duprey, who’s led the charge for years to keep the Granite State’s primary position intact in the Republican calendar, said he thinks the state will keep its place in the 2020 cycle.

“Right now, we look pretty good,” he said.

But he added that “ever vigilant is our theme, and trust, but verify, as Ronald Reagan said.”

Duprey said the Presidential Nominating Process Committee would next meet in January, and again in April or May. He predicted that the panel would give its recommendations to the RNC’s Rules Committee at the national party’s spring or summer meeting.

Duprey said New Hampshire has a strong supporter in President Donald Trump, who held massive rallies in the state during the 2016 cycle and whose convincing victory in the primary launched him toward the GOP nomination and eventually the White House.

“On the issue of whether the New Hampshire primary should remain first, I am very confident that President Trump is fully supportive of New Hampshire. He said it when he was running. He said it after he was running. He means it,” Duprey said.

“My friends in the White House operation are pretty clear that they don’t sense that there’s any change of thinking on that,” he added.

Duprey also argued that New Hampshire’s small size and population, voter engagement and strong tradition for small retail politicking such as town halls and house parties, is a convincing reason for the state to stay at the head of the calendar.

“We have one of the highest levels of engagement. But the real basic point is it gives everyone a shot. If California went first, for example, only the richest candidates could start there. It gives a lesser known candidate their chance to put their ideas out there,” Duprey argued.

“Once you leave New Hampshire, you get a little bit of one-on-one contact in South Carolina, but after that it’s airport tarmac to TV studio to airport tarmac to rally. You never really get to interact with voters again. And these candidates become better candidates when they hear the story of somebody who’s got a child who’s got an opioid addiction, or somebody who can’t pay their rent, or a single mom who can’t afford childcare and keep her job,” Duprey said.

“Every single person who’s been elected president remembers those kinds of interactions and you just don’t get that later in the campaign. It becomes a media show,” he added.

One of the leaders to keep New Hampshire first in the Democratic Party calendar is Kathy Sullivan, who sits on the Democratic National Committee’s Rules Committee.

Any talk of changes to the nominating calendar by Democrats are dwarfed by the battle over the hot-button issue of the party’s super-delegates.

“I am very optimistic and confident that New Hampshire will maintain its role,” Sullivan told the Monitor. “I don’t know anyone who wants to change New Hampshire’s place in the calendar.”

And Sullivan said DNC Chairman Tom Perez has assured her there’s support for keeping the calendar with New Hampshire as the first presidential primary.

Presidential political strategist and media adviser Mark McKinnon doesn’t need any convincing.

McKinnon, who was a top adviser to George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign and John McCain’s 2008 campaign, and who last presidential cycle was creator, executive producer, and co-host of Showtime’s The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth, agreed that the Granite State should stay first.

Speaking with the Monitor before he headlined an event this past week at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, McKinnon described the primary as “the heart of Americana.”

“I think having candidates come and make their case one by one by one to voters, which you have to do in New Hampshire. You know New Hampshire voters aren’t happy unless they talk to a presidential candidate at least three times,” he added.

And McKinnon reminisced that “every great highlight in my political life is from New Hampshire.”