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NH Politics

‘We’re going first whether they like it or not,’ N.H. Governor Sununu on retaining first-in-the nation presidential primary in 2024

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe

New Hampshire Governor Chris T. Sununu isn’t prepared to relinquish his state’s status as the first in the nation to hold the presidential primary without plenty of pushback.

“We’re going first whether they like it or not,” Sununu said Tuesday during a forum hosted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

The Democratic National Committee voted in February to give South Carolina the party’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary for the 2024 cycle, a move that New Hampshire’s Democratic leaders say is punitive and could make it more difficult to expand voting rights in the Granite State.

At the forum, Sununu said he responded to the vote with a letter to the DNC that was “cordial but firm and snarky with a little bit of New England sarcasm thrown in there” saying the DNC was “crazy” and to go “pound sand.”


A little bit later, Sununu added: “I dare you come, come and take it.”

The DNC’s new presidential nominating calendar, which President Biden endorsed and the full DNC adopted at a meeting in Philadelphia, would allow New Hampshire and Nevada to vote on Feb. 6, three days after South Carolina — with strings attached.

Under the DNC’s plan, New Hampshire would qualify for that shared, second-in-the-nation spot only if it changes its laws to expand absentee voting and eliminate the statutory requirement that its primary be held first. Such changes would require cooperation from Republican lawmakers, who hold majorities in both of the state’s legislative chambers.

Choosing South Carolina is a way to reward “Biden’s buddies,” Sununu said.

It is “blatant political payback,” Sununu said. “It’s the worst reason to pick a state to have such political and electoral responsibility.”

Biden and his allies have said changing the location of the influential first-in-the-nation primary is part of an effort to reshape the Democratic presidential nominating process in a way that listens more closely to the voices of minority voters.


But barely 15 percent of South Carolina voters participate compared with 50 percent of New Hampshire voters, Sununu said.

“That’s hypocrisy at its worst,” Sununu said, adding that the Democratic delegation in New Hampshire “is totally with me.”

“It will be really interesting to see how it plays out,” Sununu said. “But we’re going first whether they like it or not. Come and enjoy the show. It’s going to be a circus. It’s the funnest circus in town. It’s great.”

For decades, the presidential nominating calendar has kicked off with the Iowa caucuses, followed by New Hampshire’s primary. In 2020, Nevada and South Carolina went third and fourth, respectively. States with early primaries have an outsize influence, since prospective candidates who struggle to raise money or gain political traction often drop out before visiting states that vote later.

The new DNC calendar would have South Carolina hold its 2024 primary on Feb. 3, New Hampshire and Nevada (which will hold a primary instead of a caucus as it has in the past) on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13, and Michigan on Feb. 27. Many other states would vote on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Tonya Alanez can be reached at Follow her @talanez.