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Is it a ‘mistake’ for Biden to skip the N.H. primary? The Secretary of State weighs in

Secretary of State Scanlan said political parties want to exert control over the presidential nominating process, so New Hampshire needs to defend its first-in-the-nation primary tradition

New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State Patricia Lovejoy, left, looks on as Secretary of State David Scanlan explains that he will not use an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to block former President Donald Trump from the ballot in the state that will hold the first Republican presidential primary next year, at the Statehouse, in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.Holly Ramer/Associated Press

MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan couldn’t say for certain Tuesday afternoon whether President Biden would skip the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, since candidates still had three more days to sign up.

That didn’t stop him, however, from knocking the incumbent for his expected absence from the contest.

“Personally, I think it’s a mistake that he’s not putting his name on the ballot,” Scanlan told reporters at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, where he defended the state’s century-old electoral tradition against criticisms raised by the Democratic National Committee and others.


Barely an hour after Scanlan’s event, news broke that Biden’s campaign told the New Hampshire Democratic Party on Tuesday he won’t file for the state’s primary due to a scheduling impasse. Biden’s letter cited guidance from the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee without mentioning his role in the underlying conflict.

The DNC decided, at Biden’s urging, to move South Carolina to the front of its 2024 presidential nominating calendar. The national party’s plan called for New Hampshire to vote second, on the same day as Nevada. But that didn’t fly with New Hampshire officials, who cited a state law that requires Scanlan to schedule the primary at least seven days before any similar contest. The impasse ensued; neither side blinked; so now Biden is staying away, sticking to some semblance of the DNC’s calendar.

Unsurprised, members of the Democratic establishment responded with the confident line they have been reciting in recent months: that Biden “will win” the New Hampshire primary no matter what. His supporters have said they will deliver a write-in victory if that’s what it takes.

In anticipation of a groundswell of write-in votes, which must be hand-counted, Scanlan said he’s calling on local election officials to staff up to handle the extra labor in a timely manner. He said he’s confident municipalities will find the help they need to manage the extra workload.


The only notable candidate who has filed for the Democratic primary to date is author Marianne Williamson, though news reports suggest US Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota could launch a Democratic presidential bid of his own this week. At least six other Democratic candidates have filed so far, Scanlan said.

Meanwhile, at least 17 candidates have signed up for the GOP primary, including former president Donald Trump, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and others.

This primary represents something of a test for Scanlan, who became the state’s top election official last year. His predecessor, William M. Gardner, retired after 45 years as secretary of state with a reputation as the foremost guardian of New Hampshire’s quadrennial tradition. Although Scanlan served for years by Gardner’s side, the 2024 contest marks his first cycle at the helm. And he said he’s well aware 2028 is just around the corner.

Scanlan said he hopes to articulate why New Hampshire votes first, and he pushed back against critics who claim the state’s demographics, particularly with regard to race, fail to reflect the rest of the country.

“The rhetoric that comes out of the Democratic National Committee focuses on New Hampshire being too white. … Some people might consider that insulting, that that is the focus,” he said.


Biden cited a desire to elevate the voices of Black voters as the impetus for his push for South Carolina to vote first, and other Democrats have long argued that diverse communities need a bigger influence in the early contests.

But Scanlan contended that every state is unique and should be viewed as such.

“I don’t think New Hampshire should apologize for our ethnic makeup, or our educational background, or how wealthy individuals are,” he said. “That’s not what this is about.”

Scanlan said political parties want to exert control over the presidential nominating process and New Hampshire is standing in the DNC’s way, so the state needs to defend its first-in-the-nation tradition as a way for “the average citizen” to run for president without the process being “dictated by a political party.”

Scanlan said he’s not quite ready to announce the date of the 2024 primary. He’s still keeping an eye on a couple of states to make sure they don’t try to jump ahead.

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 Follow him @reporterporter.