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NH Politics

New Hampshire schedules presidential primary for January, flouting DNC’s 2024 calendar

At the urging of President Biden, national Democrats pushed South Carolina to the front of the party-approved lineup. But officials in the Granite State refused to budge.

New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan announces the date of the state’s 2024 presidential primary at the State House in Concord.Steven Porter/Boston Globe

CONCORD, N.H. — The first-in-the-nation presidential primary will be held in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, much to the chagrin of the Democratic National Committee, which sought to dislodge the state from its traditional spot in the nominating calendar.

New Hampshire Secretary of State David M. Scanlan formally announced the election date, with a splashy press event Wednesday afternoon in the Hall of Flags at the State House. But his highly anticipated pronouncement should surprise no one.

Scanlan and other state officials have said all along they won’t comply with any plan that deprives Granite Staters of their customary role in the president-vetting process. They point to a 1975 state law that requires Scanlan to hold its primary at least seven days before any similar contest.

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So when the DNC decided, at President Biden’s urging, to recognize South Carolina as holding the first Democratic primary in 2024, officials in New Hampshire cried foul but didn’t budge.

For flouting the DNC’s calendar, New Hampshire faces possible sanctions. The national party could refuse to recognize the state’s delegates at the 2024 convention in Chicago. But stubborn Democrats in New Hampshire say that there’s no penalty their party could inflict that would be worse than losing the state’s spot at the front of the line.

I don’t care what they do,” former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan, a DNC national committee member, said earlier this year. “We’re going to have our primary, and the DNC will do what they do, but it’s not going to change what we’re doing here.”

Scanlan, a Republican, told reporters on Wednesday the potential for DNC sanctions didn’t influence his decision-making. The state will award delegates based on the outcome of its primary, and the DNC either will or won’t let them through the door at the convention, he said.

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“Their threats were, from my perspective, meaningless,” he said. “I mean, New Hampshire has a tradition, and New Hampshire has a law. And both the tradition and the law were going to be followed no matter what.”

Biden won’t be on the ballot in New Hampshire. He’s skipping the rogue contest after making the case that South Carolina should go first to elevate the voices of Black voters in the process.

Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, said Biden’s decision will come back to bite him and his party.

“I think the precedent that President Biden has potentially set is no Democrat will ever dare try to skip New Hampshire again because I think it’s going to really hurt President Biden. It’s going to hurt his chances. It hurts the Democrat party as a whole.”

Scanlan and others have disputed the idea that New Hampshire’s overwhelmingly white racial demographics are a legitimate basis to squash its century-old electoral tradition.

Scanlan said the traditional New Hampshire primary serves to limit the control political parties exert over the presidential nominating process. The state’s relatively low barrier to entry means an average person can declare their candidacy and get on the ballot, as 45 candidates have this cycle, without party bosses dictating the rules.

“New Hampshire doesn’t conform,” he said.

“There are individuals at the national level, probably in both parties, that would like to be able to say, ‘This is going to be the nominee. ... That’s the name we want on the general election ballot,’” he added. “New Hampshire is the polar opposite of that.”

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Despite Biden’s absence, his supporters in New Hampshire are organizing a write-in campaign, hoping to ensure his Democratic challengers — including author Marianne Williamson and Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota — don’t perform so well as to embarrass the incumbent during a sensitive stretch of his reelection bid.

Republicans, meanwhile, haven’t sought to upend New Hampshire’s traditional spot in the 2024 calendar. Their party will decide from a slate of candidates that includes former president Donald J. Trump, former governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and others.

Under the DNC-approved calendar, South Carolina is slated to hold its Democratic primary on Saturday, Feb. 3, so Scanlan was legally required to book the New Hampshire primary no later than Saturday, Jan. 27. He was widely expected to pick a date sometime after Monday, Jan. 15, since that’s when Republicans in Iowa will hold their presidential caucuses.

New Hampshire has historically yielded to Iowa holding the earlier contest because the caucuses are viewed as sufficiently different from a primary.

Democrats removed Iowa from the party-approved 2024 early voting window altogether after the 2020 caucuses were plagued by severe vote-tallying delays.


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