Live Free and Be First
NH refuses to yield its first-in-the-nation status, leaving the DNC in a pickle over its preferred primary path for Joe Biden
Since December, headlines have flooded the news about the future of the New Hampshire primary. Many of the voices on either side — the Democratic National Committee versus New Hampshire — speak as though things are all but decided.
This is hardly true. But what hasn’t been discussed enough, until lately, is the real deadline poised to shape the state’s presidential primary for years to come:
In a surprise move, President Joe Biden’s team plans to significantly alter the Democratic presidential primary calendar for the first time in 50 years. They’ve proposed ending the lead-off Iowa Caucuses, making New Hampshire’s primary the second contest after South Carolina, along with adding a few more states in the early mix.
The goal of all of this was to prevent Biden from facing any real primary challenge, kicking things off in a state he won in the primary, in 2020, instead of in Iowa or New Hampshire. His fourth and fifth place finishes in those states, respectively, were the worst ever for someone who went on to be elected president.
The DNC quickly approved the plan from Biden, in deference to his role as leader of the party. But implementing this plan has been another matter.
There’s an obvious, big reason for this: The DNC doesn’t administer and pay for elections. States do. Thus, states decide when and where elections are held. All the DNC can decide is whether they wish to seat delegates based on those state-run elections at their national convention. Two states in particular, Georgia and New Hampshire, refused to do anything the DNC has asked with these primary changes. Georgia didn’t do it because their state house is run by Republicans.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, told the DNC to buzz off (in a bipartisan sort of way). After all, the New Hampshire primary is more than just an election. Being first for over a century has given the state an important cultural institution that no Granite Stater wants to give up. There is also the state law, which directs the New Hampshire Secretary of State to hold the nation’s first presidential primary, which takes place at least seven days before any similar election.
At first, the DNC told states they had to agree to changes in January. Then they told New Hampshire they had until June to change their minds. Then they extended it again to Sept. 1. The primary is about four months from that deadline.
Here are the DNC’s options in September: They could decide to give the state another waiver and allow New Hampshire to officially be in compliance with DNC rules, or they could rule New Hampshire as acting out of compliance.
In the latter’s case, Biden likely wouldn’t have his name on the ballot and would lose the primary, potentially giving another candidate some political oxygen. It could also set the stage for New Hampshire to regularly have a rogue primary that never officially counts on the Democratic side.
Said another way, if New Hampshire remains officially first in the eyes of the DNC this time around, it’s hard to see how that would ever change. But if the DNC takes some of the power away from the primary, especially if key candidates don’t compete, it could be the beginning of the end for the power of the primary.
To be clear, New Hampshire will hold the first presidential primary for both Republicans and Democrats next year, likely in late January. The only question is whether it will actually count. We’ll know in a few days.