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The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary could be scrapped by a DNC vote this week. Or not.

Spectators took photos of the vote count after the first-in-the-nation midnight voting in Dixville Notch, N.H. on Election Day in 2020.Erin Clark / Globe Staff/file

On Thursday, roughly three dozen members of the Democratic National Committee will meet in Washington, D.C., and, over the course of three days, consider whether to scrap New Hampshire’s century-old tradition of holding the nation’s first presidential primary.

It’s an idea that has been weighed and rejected every four years for decades, but now seems more plausible than ever, with key party leaders suggesting the distinction should go to a state more demographically representative of the country. Perhaps Nevada or South Carolina or Michigan.

Such a move would strip away a portion of the identity of New Hampshire, where residents have long had early access to presidential candidates and often shape the course of campaigns. It would also mark a seismic shift in power away from New England.


The DNC members may choose not to overhaul the calendar at all, of course. And even if they did, President Biden could weigh in at the last second with a wholly different plan and the committee would honor that.

“I seriously have no idea what will happen,” said James Roosevelt Jr., a Cambridge resident who serves as a cochair for the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee.

Many others don’t either. As several committee members told the Globe this week, there is hardly any consensus about how the party will proceed with nominating its 2024 candidate for president.

Since 2008, when Democrats last fiddled with the calendar, the presidential campaign season has worked this way: the Iowa caucuses take place first, followed by the first primary in New Hampshire, then contests in Nevada and South Carolina. Then everyone else.

(Notably, the GOP isn’t having this conversation. The Republican National Committee approved the traditional four-state lineup a while ago.)

This latest conversation among Democrats began to bubble up in 2020, after Iowa bungled the election returns. National news outlets had cameras rolling, waiting for results hours after the caucuses took place. A mobile app for reporting results crashed. Backup phone numbers didn’t work. A winner in Iowa wasn’t declared for days, long after the national spotlight had moved on to New Hampshire.


That debacle, coupled with the belief among party leaders that Iowa isn’t representative of the country’s broader demographics, led most DNC members to consider upending the order of the early contests.

One possibility on the table this week is that New Hampshire could get lumped together with Iowa and jettisoned from the early campaign lineup, given that both states lack racial diversity and have had a duopoly of sorts in the nomination process for a half-century.

But more likely, according to members, New Hampshire will manage to keep its first-in-the-nation primary status, even if many on the committee aren’t that happy about it. Dumping Iowa, for now, would be a dramatic change in and of itself.

New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley said he is “nervously optimistic.”

“The truth is that there are many options on the table for this committee, but there aren’t that many workable options,” Buckley said.

There are now three main questions about what the committee will do this week.

1. Will the DNC committee keep New Hampshire as the first sanctioned primary?

The word “sanctioned” is the one that matters here. Under New Hampshire statute, the state will always hold the nation’s first presidential primary. The question is whether the primary is held on a date the party allows. If not, any delegates earned in the contest may not count at the national convention. That would determine whether candidates show up and compete.


If Iowa is no longer included in the early state lineup, then the DNC could sanction New Hampshire as the first contest of any sort for the first time. (From 1916 to 1968, New Hampshire‘s presidential primary was the first contest without any national party blessing, but was mostly irrelevant since national party bosses picked nominees at conventions, not through primaries.)

Earlier this year, 16 other states gave presentations to the DNC committee hoping to earn this prime spot, with Nevada making the strongest case. Still, there are at least two structural problems with Nevada: First, as we saw in this midterm elections, it takes several days to count votes there, which could kill any momentum candidates hope to gain with a strong showing. Second, if it comes to a game of moving primary dates, Nevada would need a newly elected Republican governor to sign off on it, which creates a complication.

2. If Iowa isn’t among the early states, which Midwestern state would take its place?

If the committee decides to unsanction Iowa’s caucuses, Minnesota and Michigan both want that Midwestern spot, wherever it falls in the campaign lineup. Of the two, Michigan has the most momentum inside the committee, but there’s some concern that it is so much bigger than the other early states that it would end up dominating the conversation. That could be bad for the process.


3. What will Biden’s team say?

The DNC is Biden’s party, since he’s the incumbent president. He controls the levers, and the committee is expected to respect that and do whatever he wants. The issue: He has never said what he wants.

What’s interesting is that no one elected president under the current process has been less indebted to these early states. Biden finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and he basically skipped Nevada to campaign in South Carolina.

And yet, no president other than George H.W. Bush has campaigned more in these states than Biden has — given that he’s run three times for president.

Why it matters

The states that vote first largely winnow the candidate options for the rest of the country, vetting their politics and personalities. That decision impacts not just who has a chance of being president, but which issues are discussed on the campaign trail and the perceived electability of the candidates in the general election.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.