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National Democrats punt New Hampshire primary decision to October

03-08-23: Concord, NH: A sign outside of the New Hampshire State Library that explains the history of the New Hampshire first in the nation presidential primary is pictured. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff).Jim Davis/Globe Staff

WASHINGTON— There was no yelling. No one came to blows.

But at Thursday’s meeting of the national Democratic party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee in a beige hotel conference room, the underlying tension between New Hampshire and the national party was allowed to continue festering.

New Hampshire’s potential noncompliance with the new party-sanctioned calendar — which would bump it from their “First in the Nation” status — is putting the national party in an awkward spot. But rather than reckoning with it, national Democrats gave New Hampshire until Oct. 14 to submit a primary date that complies with the party’s reshuffled order. It’s the third extension deadline the state has been given, pitting the national party that has insisted on shaking up and diversifying the presidential candidate selection process against a state that by law and by will insists on being the first to cast ballots.


Asked if she saw a potential for an outcome that would leave both camps happy, Joanne Dowdell, New Hampshire’s representative on the committee, told the Globe: “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?”

She laughed and said, “You can’t satisfy everyone. That’s the truth. You just can’t.”

The motion for the new deadline passed quickly and with no discussion.

“We committed at the outset of this process to allow for every opportunity for states to honor the opportunity of hosting their nominating contest within the early window. We want to recommit to that principle and continue to work with the New Hampshire Democratic Party towards that goal,” said James Roosevelt, Jr., cochair of the committee. There was otherwise little recognition from the national party of the issue on the table. Minyon Moore, cochair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, declined to take questions on New Hampshire after the meeting.

The new deadline, of course, comes as 2024 creeps ever closer. Back in New Hampshire, the primary date has not yet been scheduled. But on Wednesday, New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan, a Republican, announced the presidential candidacy filing window, giving presidential hopefuls from Oct. 11 through Oct. 27 to file.


This means President Biden, who pushed the DNC’s primary calendar shakeup, has less than a month to decide whether he will participate in a primary his party has officially opposed happening first. Asked whether Biden will be filing as a candidate, the Biden campaign did not answer the question, deferring instead to the DNC. The DNC also did not comment.

The potential consequences could include stripping the state of half of its delegates for failing to comply.

But even if Thursday’s DNC meeting was low-key about the matter, tensions are being stoked by fringe candidates primarying Biden. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson have had campaign presences in New Hampshire.

However, some New Hampshire Democrats expressed confidence that even if Biden does not appear on the ballot, he would be able to win based off of write-in votes.

Still, the latest delay is simply prolonging what New Hampshire Democrats see as an inevitability: That they will have the first-in-the-nation primary, DNC be damned.

“I think it’s an unfortunate use of time and resources by the Democratic National Committee,” said Kathy Sullivan, a former chair of the state party, former DNC member, and self-proclaimed cranky New Hampshire Democrat. “I wish [the DNC] spent as much time focusing on winning elections as they are doing trying to stop this one election. It doesn’t seem to be the most rational approach to running a national party, but that’s the DNC’s decision.”


After the committee met, the state party released a statement saying that they are focused on winning down-ballot races.

“We have done everything in our power to comply with the DNC’s requests with regard to our primary calendar and have every intention of complying with New Hampshire state law from which the primary date is set. We look forward to putting this unnecessary distraction behind us and focusing on electing Granite State Democrats,” said state party chair Ray Buckley in the statement.

Not all Democrats are so heated about how this is playing out. Dowdell said, despite the circumstances, she was glad the committee decided to give the negotiating process more time.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” she said. “But I do appreciate the committee’s willingness to leave sort of a wide berth for those discussions to continue.”

William H. Shaheen, a national committeeman from New Hampshire, said he wasn’t surprised by the committee’s decision Thursday to grant another delay.

“Our hands have been tied,” Shaheen said. “I guess what maybe they didn’t understand when they made this ruling is we don’t have a lot of options. ... It’s flying in the face of 100 years of tradition in New Hampshire, so there’s nothing we can do. If they think something magical is going to happen in a month, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”


New Hampshire Democrats interviewed by the Globe did not seem concerned about potential consequences to being out of compliance with the national party.

“There just is no practical way that the New Hampshire law is going to change, so I feel like Democrats are being penalized for conducting a primary that they couldn’t change if they wanted to,” said James Demers, a former New Hampshire state representative, state-level lobbyist, and seasoned political operative.

Asked whether he thought there was willingness on behalf of the national party to take steps to punish New Hampshire, he said: “To be honest I just don’t know how this is ultimately going to end.”

With reporting from Steven Porter.

Lissandra Villa Huerta can be reached at Follow her @LissandraVilla.