Local, National Dems Spar over New Hampshire’s ‘First in the Nation’ Primary Status

BEDFORD, NH - FEBRUARY 11: A voter walk to the voting booth at Bedford High School during
Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

The New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP) is publicly feuding with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over its Rules and Bylaws Committee’s (RBC) move to revoke New Hampshire’s status as the first primary state in the nation at the request of President Joe Biden.

On December 1, President Biden penned a letter to the DNC proposing changes to the Democrat Party’s presidential nominating process, including the reordering of state primaries and doing away with caucuses altogether.

“Our early states must reflect the overall diversity of our party and our nation – economically, geographically, demographically. This means more diverse states earlier in the process and more diversity in the overall mix of early states,” Biden wrote.

The following day, the committee voted nearly unanimously to adopt the changes Biden proposed, as Politico reported, making South Carolina — traditionally the second primary state after the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary — the first Democratic primary state in the country, having major implications for how the presidential nomination race shakes out in its early stages. New Hampshire would follow and hold the second primary on the same day as Nevada under the new rules.

Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign appeared to be dead in the water after coming in fourth in the Iowa Caucus and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were the top performers in both states, but Biden’s campaign saw a resurgence in South Carolina where he took nearly 50 percent of the support in a crowded field, opening the door for him to make a successful run for the nomination.

Joe Biden Primary Night Event at the University of South Carolina - Columbia, SC - February 29, 2020

Joe Biden Primary Night Event at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, on February 29, 2020. (Adam Schultz/Biden for President)

But the move has not received a warm reception from New Hampshire Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheem (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who skipped the White House ball in protest days after the RBC’s decision in December, as the Seacoast Current reported.

NHDP chairman Ray Buckley appeared on the Politico Playbook Deep Dive podcast earlier this month and told Ryan Lizza it was his understanding “that Iowa was going to be the change” following behind-the-scenes talks among local and national Democrats and the Biden administration. He added that he only learned New Hampshire was taking a back seat behind South Carolina during a phone call with Shaheen.

Buckley said:

It was not until Sen. Shaheen received a phone call at 7:00 p.m. that night, when the RBC was getting the plan, that was the first time we were told that South Carolina was going to go before us and that we were being put on the same day as Nevada. That had never been broached to us by anybody of influence within the party whether a member, staff, senior staff, senior officer, or anybody in a top position at the White House. That’s just not something that had ever even been suggested to us. In fact, we were told “Don’t overreact, be calm, you’re fine – I know there’s a lot of stuff coming out of Nevada but you’re fine, you’re fine.” And then we get that news.

During an RCB meeting last week, DNC official and political operative Leah Daughtry pushed back against the notion that New Hampshire Democrats were left in the dark.

 “I was … taken aback and quite frankly shocked at … some of the news reports which stated that New Hampshire was unaware that this change in the calendar was somehow unexpected and that they were unaware that this was under consideration,” she said, adding:

I think I have been at every rules meeting, I don’t think I’ve missed one, and to my recollection this past year it has come up at every single meeting that we had had. I just want to have that noted in the record that this has been an ongoing conversation for this committee, through I don’t know how many meetings, that New Hampshire’s status like Iowa’s status was up for discussion.

Complicating the matter further is a New Hampshire law requiring the state to hold the first primary in the nation. Time Washington, DC, correspondent Phillip Elliot notes that the law has been on the books since 1976 though “New Hampshire traces its lineage as an early presidential primary state to 1916.”

Citing the 1976 law, Buckley asserted, “the primary is going to stay,” while appearing on the Deep Dive podcast this month, noting Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) and Republicans in the state legislature do not intend to change the law.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu prior to the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Loudon, NH. (Charles Krupa/AP)

“It has nothing to do with the Democratic Party, nationally or statewide. Chris Sununu and the Republican majorities in the legislatures made it very clear they’re not going even to entertain the thought of the plan to put us second along with Nevada,” he added.

Though the law was established 47 years ago, Daughtry falsely asserted last week that it has existed for more than a century and that it preceded both the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 and granted black Americans the right to vote, and the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right vote when it was ratified in 1920.

Daughtry falsely said:

And hanging their argument on this 100-year-old privilege is really, for me as an African American woman, quite disturbing in as much as this law that they passed was passed even before black people had the right to vote. So to say that something that happened over a hundred years, quite frankly before women had the right to vote and before black people had the right to vote, that somehow makes that sacrosanct that I’m going to ask my governor in the state of New York “Let us pass a law so we can be first.”

New Hampshire’s deadline to comply with the new rule changes was originally February 1, 2023, the New Hampshire Bulletin reported, but the RBC voted to extend the deadline on Tuesday, per Politico.

University of New Hampshire politics professor Dante Scala told the New Hampshire Bulletin in December that the DNC could revoke New Hampshire delegates and not award them to the state’s Democrat primary winner at the Democrat National Convention in 2024.

“By stripping New Hampshire of its delegates, the DNC would ensure that any victory by a candidate here would be symbolic only, with no bearing on the delegate-counting game,” wrote the outlet’s Ethan Dewitt citing Scala.

Conversely, Republicans are not looking to revoke New Hampshire’s cherished first primary. In Fact, former President Donald Trump has been a defender of the Granite State primary and reaffirmed his support while speaking at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual conference in Salem, NH, over the weekend.


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