Politics

Biden wants South Carolina to host the nation’s first primary. N.H. lawmakers are furious — and unwavering.

"Make no mistake ... our primary will continue to be First in the Nation."

President Joe Biden
Pete Marovich/The New York Times

President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee are planning to shake up their party’s longstanding order of presidential primary elections and, naturally, Granite Staters are not happy.

The plan, unveiled Thursday, would boot the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary as Democrats’ first nominating contests and install the South Carolina primary at the head of the pack, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire, Georgia, and Michigan, according to the New York Times.

But New Hampshire lawmakers and party officials, perhaps clinging true to the state’s “Live free” mantra, say they aren’t going to let the national figures tell them what to do: They have already signaled the state’s proud tradition of being the nation’s first presidential primary is not going the way of the Old Man of the Mountain.

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“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away,” state Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said in a statement Thursday night. “This news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first. We have survived past attempts over the decades and we will survive this.”

Both of the state’s Democratic senators slammed Biden in statements of their own.

Sen. Maggie Hassan said she’s strongly opposed to what she called the “president’s deeply misguided proposal.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen called the decision “short-sighted.”

“It’s tremendously disappointing that the president failed to understand the unique role that New Hampshire plays in our candidate selection process as the first primary state,” Shaheen said, according to WMUR.

And some officials are arguing any change from the DNC is moot around here: No matter what the DNC says, their state will always be first, thanks to a state law.

In 1968, state lawmakers passed a law declaring the New Hampshire primary was to be held before any “similar contest.” State leaders have the authority to change the primary election date to see that remains the case.

Even well before, New Hampshire had been the nation’s first primary since 1920.

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“Our first-in-the-nation primary has been an integral part of our state’s history for over 100 years, and is enshrined in state law,” Buckley said. “We look forward to welcoming candidates to New Hampshire in 2024 and beyond.”

Hassan, too, affirmed the state’s special status will remain untouched: “This status is independent of the President’s proposal or any political organization.”

“Make no mistake, New Hampshire’s law is clear and our primary will continue to be First in the Nation,” Hassan said.

Biden said the changes will help ensure a more diverse nomination process moving forward, the Times reports.

“We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” Biden wrote in a letter Thursday to members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.

“Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” he said. “We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”

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Biden, who finished fifth with 8.4 percent of the vote in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, also stated Democrats “should no longer allow caucuses as a part of our nominating process.”

New Hampshire officials, however, say their state is perfectly positioned to be the country’s first litmus test for candidates.

Giving the first pass to voters in larger states could prompt campaigns to focus more on throwing money into advertising to win over large chunks of the electorate, rather than steering energy into intimate moments with voters at diners, town halls, and community gatherings that have become key stops on the road to the presidency in smaller states like New Hampshire, according to the Times.

Hassan offered that New Hampshire’s primary ensures candidates must bring more than just cash if they’re going to make friends in the White Mountain state.

“Because of our state’s small size, candidates from all walks of life — not just the ones with the largest war chests — are able to compete and engage in the unique retail politics that are a hallmark of our state,” Hassan said. “This ensures that candidates are battle-tested and ready to compete for our nation’s highest office.”

Shaheen said Biden’s plan “risks splintering attention from candidates, denying voters crucial opportunities to connect with candidates and hear their visions and policy priorities.”

Notably, the Republican Party has agreed to keep the past order of caucus and primaries, according to the Times.

For Democrats, there is still some ways to go before any of the primary schedule gets re-worked for good.

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The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee must give its approval, and then the DNC has to sign off on it, WMUR reports.

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