THERE ARE many purely self-interested reasons why New Hampshire should do all it can to secure a meaningful, first-in-the-nation position for its presidential primary. The primary elevates the Granite State in power and prestige, and gives an economic boost to both the Manchester and Boston TV and radio markets. But self-interest shouldn’t govern the presidential selection process, even though states are piling on top of each other to gain earlier slots in the primary calendar.
The fact is, the New Hampshire primary is good for the country. The state is small enough to allow candidates of all means to be heard - a vital consideration in a political process where monied interests hold greater and greater sway. The people of New Hampshire have made a decades-long commitment to attending speeches and town meeting-style campaign events, and to assessing each candidate closely and fairly. The thousands who came out to church halls, veterans’ posts, and school gymnasiums starting this summer attest to the seriousness with which Granite State voters take their task.
Now, because Florida and Nevada are jumping ahead of the Republican National Committee’s planned primary schedule, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has a difficult decision. He is actively considering moving the New Hampshire primary to early or mid-December, in order to maintain its first-in-the-nation status. But a December primary would be a mistake, and Gardner should instead work within state law to schedule the primary for Tuesday, Jan. 10.
The Jan. 10 date would be one week after the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, a week during which all the candidates would campaign intensively in New Hampshire. But Granite State law includes a requirement that the New Hampshire primary be scheduled a week before any similar contest. Nevada last week moved to schedule its caucuses for Jan. 14. To claim the Jan. 10 slot, Gardner must either make a determination that the Nevada caucuses aren’t similar to the primary, or seek a change in state law. Either approach would be preferable to pushing the primary to early or mid-December.
A December primary would represent yet another month’s earlier start to presidential voting compared to 2008, and a full three months earlier than the traditional March start of the primary season. That means people would be voting for a nominee almost a year before the election, before the issues are sufficiently clear and the candidates are sufficiently vetted. It also would subject the country to an ever-lengthening voting season, requiring ever-greater amounts of money to sustain itself.
In some ways, a long march to the nomination is good for the process, allowing candidates to grow and develop. But a January start is early enough; at some point, the calendar must present an immovable barrier to states pushing forward their primaries, and Jan. 1 is a logical doorstop: The 2012 election shouldn’t begin until 2012.
Moreover, the push into December wouldn’t serve local concerns very well, either. Voters caught up in the holiday season wouldn’t be able to concentrate as well as they would in January. They’d be deprived of an extra month of exposure to the still-developing field of candidates. And New Hampshire hotels and restaurants - not to mention TV and radio outlets - would lose a month of campaign-related business. Gardner would do a disservice to his state and his country if he scheduled the primary before New Year’s Day.