Democrats are contesting the first primary in New Hampshire

Phil Hatcher and his wife moved to New Hampshire from the Midwest in 1986, and quickly got a taste of what makes the state’s first primary so special for the people who live there.

Rev. Jesse Jackson gave their young daughter a pat on the head at an event during his 1988 presidential campaign, before he finished fourth in the state. During the 1992 presidential primary, Hatcher attended his first house party, where former California Governor Jerry Brown was the guest of honor.

“One of our friends went to a Jerry Brown event and just walked up to him and said, ‘I’d like you to come to my house.'” “Good,” said Hatcher, who is now the co-chair of the Dover Democratic Party, looked at her and said, “It was great for us.”

Thirty years later, New Hampshire’s century-old future, the nation’s first primary, is on shaky ground, as the Democratic National Party seeks to reassert control over a process centered on tradition and dominated by, say, the younger. white countries.

For Hatcher, 100 years is a very good race.

“I’m at camp. Maybe it’s time for us to give it up, you know?” He said. “I understand it was a great thing for New Hampshire, but I think it’s hard to justify keeping him at this point.”

The Democratic National Committee is set to vote next month on President Biden’s proposal to dramatically reshape the first weeks of the party’s 2024 primary calendar. Instead of leading in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the presidential candidates will first face the electors of South Carolina on February 3, New Hampshire and Nevada on February 6, Georgia on February 13 and Michigan on February 27.

But the odds of this calendar appearing in 2024 are low.

To secure second place, New Hampshire would need to repeal a 1975 state law that required its statute to be one week ahead of others and pass new legislation expanding access to early voting.

The Democratic Party has given the state until January 5 to commit to making those changes. The state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, has repeatedly and forcefully rejected the party’s demands, writing earlier this month that the state would not be “blackmailed” or “threatened” by national Democrats.

“We’ll go first, no matter what Joe Biden thinks or wants,” Sununu recently told Bloomberg. “I think the Democrats have made a huge mistake.”

To maintain their position, Georgia Democrats will need to convince Republicans to hold two key rounds. The Republican National Committee voted in September to keep the traditional two-party system in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary.

And if Biden decides to run for re-election, he will limit the influence of the entire lineup.

With the 2024 GOP primary calendar set and Democrats fluctuating, the February DNC vote won’t end New Hampshire’s first primary. But if the national party approves of Biden’s plan, it would end decades of the national party’s respect for the state, setting a new precedent for the 2028 primary season.

By acting now, when the odds of open primaries are low, national Democrats believe they have a better chance of upending age-old traditions in favor of a new system that prioritizes states that reflect party base and decide the general election.

Mo Ilithi, a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, said the new plan sends a signal “that change is not only necessary, but possible.”

“We will continually re-evaluate this and have a framework on how it can change based on the needs of any given course,” Ilithi said. “This is a very important message to send.”

The party has also moved to toughen penalties against countries that run unauthorized nomination contests.

When Michigan and Florida jumped the line and held snap primaries in 2008, the DNC initially stripped the states of their delegates before reversing course before the convention.

Ilithi, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, said the lesson he took away from that situation was that any effort to force a primary calendar should focus on the candidates, not just the states and their delegates. Clinton and her rivals signed a pledge distributed by parties in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada that they would not campaign in rogue states.

Under new rules approved last year, candidates who put their names on the ballot or campaign in states that cross the line could face additional penalties from the Democratic Party chairman, such as being barred from attending debates and losing access to the party’s voter information database. .

“So when you hear a state say, ‘We don’t care what the DNC does, because there’s no way candidates won’t come in,’ they might not if there’s a heavy price to pay,” Ilithi said.

Controversy over the nomination calendar and threats to the dominance of Iowa and New Hampshire are not new. Prior to the 2008 presidential primary, the party was debating a similar question: How do you give people of color a greater voice in the nomination process? The answer: Move over in South Carolina and Nevada, where Black and Latino voters make up large portions of the Democratic base.

In 2022, the DNC opened the primary calendar process to all states that wanted to apply for an early spot. Twenty states and territories presented, and 17 states were invited to make presentations. Committee members aimed to select states that are ethnically and regionally diverse, have inclusive electoral processes—including staying away from caucuses—and would allow Democratic candidates to stand up to as many state voters as possible on the battlefield.

Nevada appeared to be the frontrunner for the No. 1 state in the state ahead of Biden’s proposal, and will likely be a favorite when the DNC reassesses the calendar ahead of the 2028 cycle.

“For Democrats, choosing a president to lead America should start with a country that looks like America,” Rebecca Lambie, a Democratic consultant who served as former Nevada Senator Harry Reid, wrote in a note in November. initial condition. Reid, who died in 2021, played a pivotal role in increasing Nevada’s influence in the nomination process.

It is a diverse country with minority majorities and a general election battleground. Nevada Democrats in recent years have passed legislation expanding mail-in voting and shifting from caucuses to the primary system.

And unlike New Hampshire, Nevada supporters may have gained goodwill with the committee by refraining from public criticism of the 2024 plan.

With their primary position under threat, New Hampshire Democrats — including the state’s congressional delegation, current and former lawmakers and influential DNC members — pointed to the state law protecting their primaries while urging Biden and other DNC members to reconsider. Democratic state senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan boycotted the congressional party at the White House last month after Biden unveiled his plan, promising to continue the fight for first place in the country.

In a January 5 letter to the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley called the changes the DNC asked the state to make “unrealistic and unachievable.” Buckley warned that the party was giving Republicans a valuable talking point ahead of the 2024 election, when the governor’s mansion, two congressional seats, control of the state legislature and the votes of the state’s four electoral colleges are up for grabs.

Some in New Hampshire have also criticized Biden for arranging the primary schedule in a way that would benefit his re-election campaign by deterring challengers.

Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, accused Biden of trying to “rig” the 2024 presidential primary by moving up the state that had previously favored him. After finishing fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire presidential primary, Biden’s campaign was revived by taking first place in the South Carolina primary, a victory due in part to key endorsement from Democratic Rep. James E. Claiborne.

“The president doesn’t want to campaign in a state like New Hampshire because campaigning is not what people in power want,” Levesque said. “They want to go to a state like South Carolina, where endorsement by the party chief means success.”

South Carolina is one of the few states with a high percentage of Black voters and the flexibility to move a primary—unlike New Hampshire, the state party sets the primary date. But it is not a competitive general election state and it lacks a strong union presence.

Democrats from the state rejected the characterization that voters there are less independent than those in New Hampshire.

“Zero zero tolerance for any disrespect or segregation of black voters,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, who previously ran the South Carolina Democratic Party, he wrote in a tweet. “These voters are always pragmatic and articulate. Their knees have never been bent. Their spines have been hardened in the perpetual struggle for freedom and equality for us all!”

In interviews, New Hampshire primary supporters stress that no other state can match its track record of dedicated voters and support for underdog candidates.

Historically, New Hampshire was a place where new political candidates lacking major donors and party support launched winning campaigns by shaking hands and answering tough questions at town halls and house parties.

The state is small enough that one can drive from its southern border with Massachusetts to its northernmost border with Canada in just over four hours, even though most of its 1.4 million residents live near Manchester. It has media markets in which it is cheaper to buy ads and politically engaged voters who welcome – and expect – conversations with presidential candidates.

“The New Hampshire primary creates such a level playing field, whether it’s Jimmy Carter in 1976, or it’s Bernie Sanders in 2016,” Buckley said. “One thing that has been very consistent is that New Hampshire voters decide. There is no group of insiders, there is no group of powerful power brokers.”

Critics say that history is just stories about a bygone era. Or worse, a legend. Even fans of the New Hampshire primary say the retail policies of the past have just given way to more rallies and selfie lines.

“Everyone points to the Jimmy Carter campaign, which was real,” said Hatcher, the Dover Democrat. “But you know, how many Jimmy Carters have happened since then?”

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