The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee recently met to vote on the 2024 presidential election primary calendar. Heeding a proposal from President Biden, the Rules and Bylaws Committee approved a calendar that places South Carolina first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada, which would share the second date. While we agree with the president and committee members that a more demographically diverse state should go earlier in the primary process, it was possible to make that important adjustment while maintaining New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status. It did not have to be one at the cost of the other.
Our state’s first-in-the-nation primary makes our entire country and democracy stronger, and the importance of how we’ve run the New Hampshire primary should not be dismissed.
It’s easy for political pundits and power brokers to roll their eyes at New Hampshire’s reaction to this attempt to end more than 100 years as host of the first-in-the-nation primary — but that loses sight of why New Hampshire has time and time again gone first.
The New Hampshire primary started as an effort to return the democratic process to the voters and expand access beyond big-party bosses. The direct voter contact that New Hampshire provides, as well as the political culture of high voter engagement with candidates, puts those seeking office through their paces with a process that has evolved for generations. That’s why retaining the New Hampshire primary as the first is not merely an argument to adhere to a century-long legacy. Our state has cultivated a process and atmosphere that is uniquely positioned to host the kind of contest that makes all politics — even the race for president — local.
The retail politics New Hampshire provides is unmatched by any other state. Candidates don’t need to have expensive media buys, chartered transportation to get around, or high name recognition — they simply need a good handshake and meaningful answers to voters’ questions. In the New Hampshire primary, every candidate gets a fair shot.
But if the proposal approved by the DNC panel stands, only candidates with the most campaign funds to spend will get that chance. And this isn’t just about who wins the New Hampshire primary; it’s about the process itself. The intimacy of the campaigning that Granite Staters expect forces candidates to develop policies as they face an incredibly engaged electorate face-to-face, preparing and vetting candidates in unparalleled grassroots-style politicking.
State law requires that New Hampshire host the first primary in the nation, and the DNC panel’s newly approved calendar will trigger the state’s statutory requirement that the primary be scheduled seven days prior to any earlier primary election. Threats from the DNC of sanctioning or not seating delegates will not make a difference, because we are bound by state law. It’s frustrating and reflects poor planning that the president’s proposal, which came barely 24 hours before the Rules and Bylaws Committee voted on the primary calendar, openly asks the state of New Hampshire to violate its own law.
The president’s proposal elicited a predictable response from New Hampshire Republicans: National Democrats are trying to strip the first-in-the-nation status from New Hampshire because they don’t believe New Hampshire voices matter. When we testified before the Rules and Bylaws Committee earlier this year, we warned committee members that Republicans would use this message against Democrats, which is particularly dangerous in a state with historically tight races that rely on the unique and powerful role of independent voters to decide elections.
Razor-thin margins in our races are often decided by independents, who will have access to a Republican first-in-the-nation primary, but not a Democratic one if the DNC proposal is approved in its current form. Historically, New Hampshire independent voters favor Democratic candidates and have helped deliver critical wins for our party in presidential and congressional races. If this proposal is approved by the DNC, we will push independents away from our party and Democrats will deliver a self-inflicted blow that Republicans will use to court voters over the next two years. Republicans have already started blaming Democratic leadership for New Hampshire losing its first-in-the-nation primary and touting the GOP as the only party that cares about Granite Staters.
The president advanced South Carolina at the cost of New Hampshire when he could have formulated a proposal that satisfied two important objectives: move a more diverse state to an earlier date and retain New Hampshire in the first slot to safeguard a critical state for Democrats and an important process for our country. These did not have to be mutually exclusive.
The proposal to have New Hampshire and Nevada share the same date slights both Granite Staters and Nevadans. Forcing candidates to focus their campaigns on one state or the other penalizes voters who won’t have the chance to vet candidates properly. It also hamstrings candidates who won’t be able to make their cases to voters in both states equally. And that matters — not just for voters in New Hampshire, but for the broader electorate and candidates, all of whom benefit from the rigor and examination that the New Hampshire primary specifically provides.
To hold a Democratic majority in the Senate, take back the House of Representatives, and keep a Democratic administration, Democrats need New Hampshire. If the Democratic Party chooses to dismiss the importance of New Hampshire going first in the primary calendar, we are tremendously concerned about the outcomes of races up and down the ticket. We also worry about the message it sends about the nation’s democratic process — that only those with the deepest pockets and highest name recognition have a fighting chance for our nation’s highest office.
The New Hampshire primary was born out of a need to return the democratic process to the people, not leave it with party insiders. It is shortsighted to dismiss our argument without full consideration of the ramifications that the proposed change could hold for our party and the democratic process itself.
Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are New Hampshire’s US senators. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas are the state’s US representatives.