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White House proposes bumping NH primary, angering state Democrats

  • President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 12/1/2022 10:34:56 PM
Modified: 12/1/2022 10:32:32 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

New Hampshire Democrats received a jolt Thursday evening after Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said the White House will propose that South Carolina be the first presidential primary — and New Hampshire be bumped to second place.

Shaheen said she had spoken to the White House that evening and learned that President Joe Biden preferred that South Carolina host its primary first, that New Hampshire and Nevada both host their primaries a week later, and that Michigan host a primary on a third date.

The senator first reported the conversation to WMUR. A spokeswoman for Shaheen confirmed the senator’s account of the White House’s position to the Bulletin.

Reacting to the news, Shaheen issued a defiant statement Thursday, vowing that New Hampshire would host its primary first regardless of the order the Democratic National Committee votes to approve. She cited a New Hampshire state statute that requires the secretary of state to set the primary election date before any other state’s primary.

“As frustrating as this decision is, it holds no bearing over when we choose our primary date: New Hampshire’s state law stipulates that we will hold the ‘First-in-the-Nation’ primary,” Shaheen said. “We look forward to hosting candidates in New Hampshire for the 2024 presidential primary and showing the country that we should continue to be entrusted with the ‘First-in-the-Nation’ primary that yields timely, reliable results with a process that levels the playing field for all candidates, regardless of clout or background.”

The state’s other three Democratic congressional delegates reacted with similar statements.

“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,” Sen. Maggie Hassan said. “This ensures that candidates are battle-tested and ready to compete for our nation’s highest office. We will always hold the First in the Nation Primary, and this status is independent of the President’s proposal or any political organization.”

Shaheen and Hassan’s statements Thursday stood in contrast to their appeals to Democratic National Committee members earlier this year, in which they passed out goodie bags with maple syrup and chocolate.

The White House did not make its exact primary lineup preference public Thursday. And the president does not have direct control over the Democratic nomination calendar. But Biden’s recommendation, if confirmed, comes at a pivotal moment.

On Friday and Saturday, the powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee is scheduled to meet to discuss the recommended lineup of states for Democratic primaries. The committee will choose five states that they say should lead the process.

That decision will not be the last word: Whatever recommendation the committee makes will go to the full DNC, whose members will meet in early January. But the recommendation will carry significant weight next month.

While Biden did not spell out his preferred primary state order to the committee, he did write a letter to the committee arguing for the need to highlight primaries in states with more diversity.

“We must ensure that voters of color have a choice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” Biden wrote to the committee.

“As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color — and that includes Black, Brown and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters.”

He added: “For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process. 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.”

In a clear swipe at Iowa, Biden also said in the letter that “our party should no longer allow caucuses to be part of our nominating process” because caucuses, with their long hours and public scrutiny of candidate choices, “are inherently anti-participatory.”

New Hampshire has held the first presidential primary since 1920, and has traditionally followed the Iowa caucuses during the nominating calendar. But some in the national Democratic party have questioned that order in recent years, pointing to the two states’ lack of diversity. Others have criticized errors made during the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses that delayed results for three days.

This year, in an acknowledgement of those concerns, the committee created an application process for states to make the case that they should be in the top five group of nominating states. In June, the committee heard presentations in Washington, D.C., from 16 states and Puerto Rico. New Hampshire’s delegation, which included Hassan and Shaheen, argued that the state’s small size, experience, and high levels of voter participation make it an ideal proving ground for smaller presidential campaigns.

After hearing the presentations over the summer, the committee opted to delay its decision until after the midterm elections in November.

Biden’s preference for South Carolina echoes his decision on primary night in 2020 when, facing defeat in New Hampshire, he left the state for South Carolina before the results were announced.

Politico asked Biden that night what his message was to New Hampshire voters.

“The rest of the nation is out there,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of electoral votes to be had. And we’re going to see. But I think we’re going to do well in Nevada and South Carolina. And we’ll go from there.”

He placed fifth in New Hampshire, but stormed to victory in South Carolina.

The rules committee will hold morning and afternoon meetings on both Friday and Saturday. It is not clear exactly when the primary calendar vote will take place; the committee is expected to discuss other items as well.

In a statement Thursday, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said the state was prepared to defy any DNC primary calendar decision — even if the national committee imposed penalties, such as removing the state’s delegate powers.

“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away,” Buckley said. “This news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first.”

States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief Jane Norman contributed reporting.

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