Who's on First? Why our head start in the presidential primary is fair play




So, once again, we're smack in the middle of presidential primary season. This time around it is the Republican candidates who are zinging their opponents and organizing their supporters, but there's another contest where everyone in New Hampshire is basically on the same team.Our first-in-the-nation presidential primary has become one of the greatest of American traditions - a blend of snow and drama and unscripted moments, with candidates seeking to becoming the leader of the free world.Nowhere in the country's Constitution does it state that New Hampshire must be the first state in the process of picking nominees for president, but it has been that way since the modern era of the primary began 60 years ago. And there have almost always been states who wanted to challenge our tradition.In 1972 Florida scheduled their primary on the same day as we did and in 1976 Massachusetts did the same. Both times we just moved ours earlier. In 1980 Puerto Rico held an earlier primary, but we ignored it. In 1984 we almost lost the primary altogether when the Democratic National Committee tried to argue they were more powerful than our state law and that we must let Vermont hold their primary on the same day as ours. Hah. In 1988 South Dakota was the problem. In 1992 it was South Carolina.In 1996 it was Arizona and Delaware. In 2000 it was South Carolina and Michigan. Michigan tried again in 2004. In 2008 it was madness when Florida's aggressive moves forced everyone to adjust.This year we have had threats from Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Nevada, Louisiana and Minnesota, but it was Florida again that acted to violate Republican National Committee rules to require us to set a primary date barely into 2012.Through the years our keeper of the primary has been New Hampshire's Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the longest serving secretary of state in the nation.It is understandable why other states would like the attention we get from candidates and the national media, but could they really offer what we do? New Hampshire doesn't want this tradition to protect an industry or to represent some special interest or subgroup of voters. Primary voters here take their role seriously by engaging with candidates up close and voting at among the highest participation levels in the nation.Other states that want to cut in and play games with the calendar forget that our state's Bill Gardner is the guy who basically invented the game.Gardner is also aided by a state law we first passed in the early 1970s and just amended once more last year. This law states that New Hampshire must have the first presidential primary and that no other state can come seven days before us or seven days after us. (Though we courteously allow Iowa to hold its caucus ahead of us.)For pundits and regular citizens, primary season is a magical time in the state. As you engage in your civic duty remember that, even with Gardner in charge, the main thing these other states don't have are New Hampshire voters. You must keep up your end of the tradition, too. NH
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