A Chilly Campaign Season
Not even a constitutional amendment could reform this political mess
I spent quite a while examining Article Two of the US Constitution, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. This section describes the duties and qualifications of the US president. It also wasn’t in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, which establishes the way presidents are elected, or the 25th Amendment, which applies to the role of succession should a president be killed or otherwise unable to carry out presidential duties.
But clearly in there somewhere, codified in America’s most sacred legal document, are the words: “New Hampshire shall hold the nation’s first presidential primary, but only on a freezing day.”
After all, after 100 years of holding the primary, Granite Staters know that when it’s time to start pondering who should be the next leader of the free world, it’s also time to put on the long johns.
But how cold is the New Hampshire primary season? For the last six presidential primaries, going back to 1988, the average temperature was 31 Fahrenheit — below freezing.
The coldest primary of that group was in 2004, when the high in Concord was 13. That year I was assigned to report on the midnight election at Dixville Notch where the temperature was around zero and wind chill, as I recall it, was somewhere around -35 degrees. It was the coldest I have ever been.
We are now at the point where national television stations actually seek out a chilly New Hampshire scene in their primary coverage. Our primary is officially branded by cold; for example, seeing a politician and a voter shaking hands outside as their breath visibly mingles in the cold air.
In short, you can tell Granite State politics is heating up is when the temperatures begin to drop.
It wasn’t always this way. Originally the New Hampshire primary was held on town meeting day in mid-March. But by the time the 1970s came around two things happened: First, other states wanted to hold the first presidential primary. Second, the New Hampshire general assembly passed a law requiring New Hampshire to be first.
As a result of those contradictory forces, the clock for the New Hampshire primary began spinning in reverse, moving back a little nearly every cycle. The primary finally even wound its way into the winter heart of January and, during the 2008 and 2012 primaries, Secretary of State Bill Gardner threatened he would move the primary into December unless other states backed down.
Eventually, the national political parties said the showdowns over the calendar date of the primary was getting crazy. They moved New Hampshire — and other states — forward a month to February.
At the time, it seemed like that might provide some better weather for the news crews and candidates. That illusion was challenged last February when the state endured a historic snowstorm. And given how warm December was around these parts, maybe there should be a new constitutional amendment that says we only elect presidents in years where El Niño decides to flare up and bring us some warmer weather.
Actually, no. It just wouldn’t feel right.