fb-pixelN.H. and the commitment to its first-in-the-nation primary tradition - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

N.H. and the commitment to its first-in-the-nation primary tradition

The DNC could punish New Hampshire for not giving up their first-in-the-nation primary date, but state Democrats aren’t quaking in their boots. “I’m not worried at all,” said the former lawmaker who crafted the law that requires N.H.’s primary be scheduled seven days before any similar contest.

A woman takes a Democratic ballot to vote in the New Hampshire Primary at Parker-Varney Elementary School, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Manchester, N.H. Months after the Democratic Party approved President Joe Biden's plan to overhaul its primary order to better reflect a deeply diverse voter base, implementing the revamped order has proven anything but simple. Party officials now expect the process to continue through the end of the year — even as the 2024 presidential race heats up all around it. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Another key moment in New Hampshire’s unflinching commitment to hold 2024′s first-in-the-nation presidential primary has arrived.

The state’s top election official, Secretary of State David M. Scanlan, will announce Wednesday when candidates will be allowed to file for their names to appear on the ballot. He won’t announce the date of the election itself just yet, but he’s made clear that New Hampshire will keep its spot at the front of the line, as state law requires.

Then, on Thursday, the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee will meet to consider whether the time has come to fault New Hampshire for its noncompliance with the DNC’s reworked presidential nominating calendar.


Despite multiple deadline extensions, New Hampshire officials have clung stubbornly to their century-old tradition. So the DNC could punish the insolent Granite Staters, perhaps by stripping recognition for their delegates to the party’s nominating convention.

Even so, New Hampshire Democrats aren’t quaking in their boots.

“I’m not worried at all,” said James R. Splaine of Portsmouth.

Splaine, a former state lawmaker who sponsored the 1975 legislation that requires Scanlan to schedule New Hampshire’s primary at least seven days before any similar contest, said the DNC needs to realize the state won’t budge.

President Biden nudged the DNC to adopt its 2024 calendar as part of an effort to elevate the voices of Black voters by having South Carolina go first. New Hampshire’s overwhelmingly white electorate would then share a second-in-the-nation slot with Nevada. But that would breach New Hampshire’s law.

Splaine said the DNC’s new calendar would be a loss not just for New Hampshire but for the nation. Small-state retail politics creates opportunities for lesser-known candidates and puts national figures face-to-face with voters, he said.

“The New Hampshire primary is democracy at its purest, as much as can be,” he said.


While that rationale is often cited by proponents of New Hampshire’s traditional role, it has its skeptics, including those who question whether such an idealized notion truly reflects the realities of politics present or past. Regardless, the impasse over New Hampshire’s primary presents a potential tripping hazard for Biden’s reelection bid.

Some members of the Democratic establishment are banking on a write-in win to push Biden to victory in New Hampshire even if he refrains from competing as a declared candidate in what the DNC could designate a rogue contest. Splaine, meanwhile, said he would prefer for Biden to withdraw from the presidential race entirely.

“I love Joe Biden,” he said, “but I don’t think he can win.”

Splaine said he’ll gladly vote for Biden again in 2024 over any of the Republican candidates, but he views the president’s age as a big risk. Biden will turn 82 shortly after the general election.

“A lot of people are going to consider whether or not he is too old,” Splaine said. “And that is old. I’m 76. I’m old. I know that when you get to a certain point, you have to decide that other people, younger people should be able to step up and replace you.”

The GOP frontrunner, former president Donald J. Trump, is less than four years younger than Biden, but Splaine worries Republicans might nominate someone decades younger, creating a much starker contrast.

While the idea that Biden would suddenly step aside may be far-fetched, the perception about his age appears to be widely held. Pollsters asked New Hampshire voters in July to describe Biden with one word. Their top response? “Old.”


This story first appeared in Globe NH | Morning Report, our free newsletter focused on the news you need to know about New Hampshire, including great coverage from the Boston Globe and links to interesting articles from other places. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Steven Porter can be reached at steven.porter@globe.com. Follow him @reporterporter.