On the trail: NH’s treasured first-in-the-nation primary status on the line

  • Voting at the Peterborough Community Center for the primary election on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant

For the Monitor
Published: 11/25/2022 10:39:22 AM
Modified: 11/25/2022 10:39:12 AM

A powerful Democratic National Committee panel meets next week to make a highly anticipated decision on the likely reordering of the top of the party’s 2024 presidential nominating calendar.

On the agenda when the Rules and Bylaws Committee convenes on Thursday is whether Iowa and New Hampshire — which have held the first two contests in the DNC’s presidential primary and caucus schedule for half a century — will keep their traditional leadoff positions, or if the party will shake up the order and place a more diverse state in the leadoff slot.

The panel was originally scheduled to meet in early September to decide which states they’ll recommend obtaining carve-out status, meaning those states would get to hold their presidential nominating primary in a window ahead of March 2024, when the remaining states are allowed to start holding their contests. However, the meeting was postponed until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

“We’ve said right from the get-go that we feel New Hampshire is going to remain first in the nation,” longtime state Democratic party chair Ray Buckley told the Monitor. “New Hampshire does a terrific job in hosting the first in the nation primary and should continue to do so. End of story.”

Earlier this year the DNC moved to require Iowa, New Hampshire (which has held the first presidential primary for a century) and Nevada and South Carolina — which the last couple of cycles have held the third and fourth contests in the Democratic calendar — to reapply for early state status in the 2024 calendar. Other states interested in moving up to the top of the calendar also were allowed to apply. The DNC is also considering allowing a fifth state to obtain carve-out status. The four existing early states plus 13 others are still in contention to land pre-window status.

The knock for years against Iowa and New Hampshire among many 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. And 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 current conventional wisdom is that Iowa, due to its 2020 caucus reporting woes and the fact that it has shifted towards the GOP in recent general election cycles, is likely to lose its leadoff position, while New Hampshire is expected to potentially keep its early state status, thanks in part to running a smooth primary that allows independents to vote in either party’s contests — and which remains a heavily contested general election battleground.

But a major sticking point is New Hampshire’s state law that protects its first-in-the-nation status, giving the secretary of state the power to move up the date of the contest to protect primary tradition. A showdown would likely occur if the DNC kept New Hampshire second in the calendar but moved another state’s primary to the top of the order.

“The state law is very clear,” Buckley said.

There’s no drama when it comes to the GOP nominating calendar. The Republican National Committee voted earlier this year to make no changes to their current order of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada leading off their schedule.

Recount optics

There were two political battles playing out this past week in the fight over the state House of Representatives seat in Manchester’s Ward 6.

The most obvious one was the actual vote tally, which after counting, recounting and counting again, ended Tuesday with Republican incumbent Larry Gagne defeating Democratic challenger Maxine Mosley by 26 votes.

But just as important was the political fireworks over optics after Democrats sued following the first recount revealed Moseley won by one vote. They wanted Mosely declared the winner, but a judge allowed for counting to continue.

New Hampshire Democrats, who’ve long argued that state Republicans have tried to suppress turnout by working to limit voter access, faced claims they were the ones in opposition to all the votes being counted.

“In an effort to subvert the will of Manchester Ward 6 voters, New Hampshire Democrat leaders have engaged in appalling, hypocritical and outrageous behavior to prevent all legal votes from being counted,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu argued in a statement.

The governor thanked Republican Secretary of State David Scanlan “for protecting the integrity of our elections and ensuring the voice of the voters is fully reflected.”

And State House majority leader David Osborne charged that “the Democratic Party attempted to take a legislative seat by subverting and disenfranchising voters.”

Buckley argued the law was on their side.

“The judge ruled that the Secretary of State acted outside the law. That was exactly what we were saying,” Buckley said. “The Secretary of State does not have the legal authority to recount a recount. The judge ordered the recount. That’s where it should have gone in the first place.”

Former State Senator Melanie Levesque, a Democrat, has announced she will challenge Scanlan for his elected position as Secretary of State.

“Once you have a Secretary of State act above the law and outside the law, then what’s next?” Buckley said. “That’s not an appropriate role for a Secretary of State in any way. And while the Republicans would like to spin it as something else, that’s exactly what the situation was. He had no authority to call for a recount of a recount.”


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