Friday, February 5, 2021

Where Does New Hampshire Fit into All the Early 2024 Calendar Jockeying?

Since FHQ ended its post-election hiatus after the inauguration the other week, we have spent considerable time discussing the (VERY) early maneuverings on the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Much of that has been in response to news accounts that have filtered out about a couple of states in particular: Iowa and Nevada.

Iowa, the lead off state on the primary calendar for the entirety of the post-reform era, has its issues after a 2020 process that did not exactly go as planned. That has the state's future as first-in-the-nation contest clearly in the crosshairs of, if not the Democratic National Committee, then certainly of activists and other vocal early state dissenters. Whether that criticism is enough to disrupt the calendar order that came to dominate the second decade of the 21st century remains to be seen. There are some institutional roadblocks. But Republicans in the Hawkeye state also seem intent on trying once again to band together with Iowa Democrats and their early state counterparts on the RNC to protect the caucuses. 

But should Iowa falter and the DNC opt for some change at the front of the queue, Nevada stands ready and willing to fill the void. That is true in the case of a caucus to primary shift for 2024, but also to jump into Iowa's position as well. 

And though FHQ has mentioned it in passing in these discussions, short shrift has likely been paid to another likely player in how this will all ultimately shake out: New Hampshire.  

Unsurprisingly, John DiStaso of WMUR, one of the stalwarts of the #FITN beat in the Granite state had a fairly typical response to the Nevada speculation, yet another of the quadrennial rites of passage challenges to New Hampshire's traditional standing on presidential primary calendar.
"And by the way, in case you need reminding (and we’re sure you don’t): New Hampshire has a little thing called a state law ensuring that the primary will be first – with or without the blessing of the political parties and the awarding of delegates.  
"Also, we expect that soon to emerge will be a public show of unity between New Hampshire Democrats and Republicans – yes, even in this sharply divided partisan atmosphere -- to push back against the building opposition to the primary’s status."
DiStaso is absolutely correct that there is a state law in New Hampshire that protects the states position on the calendar. That is not up for dispute. Not only does the law require that the New Hampshire primary be at least seven days before any similar contest (read: primary), but Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) has adeptly used the law (and the latitude it provides him in setting the date of the primary) since 1976 to keep New Hampshire exactly where it has been. 

But 2024 might be different for New Hampshire (if not Iowa). 

Said state law has been successful in preserving New Hampshire's position, but that law has come to be buttressed in recent cycles by national party delegate selection rules and more importantly penalties in both parties. Not only has New Hampshire's place been codified in both sets of national party rules, but the penalties have (for the most part) further protected the Granite state and the other three carve-outs from the encroachment of would-be rogue states. 

In other words, there has been a price to pay for ambitious states that have not been Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in the recent past. On the Democratic side, such a state would lose half of its delegates and candidates would lose any delegates won in any rogue state if they campaigned there. In the Republican rules, such a violation would knock a state's delegation (depending on its size) down to just six or nine delegates. Those are substantial penalties that have been largely effective at protecting all four carve-out states, potentially surpassing the continued efficacy of the state law in New Hampshire. 

What FHQ means is that with or without that state law, the nation party rules have been engineered to protect the early states. But what if those same penalties are turned around and pointed at New Hampshire?

Let us assume for a moment that the DNC and the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee over the next year and a half or so come to the conclusion that enough is enough and it is time at last to reconfigure the beginning of the primary calendar. The hypothetical rules would no longer reserve the second position -- or the first primary position -- for New Hampshire. Should Secretary Gardner opt to flaunt the rules and bump the presidential primary in the Granite state back up to that first position, then that would actually open up New Hampshire to penalties being assessed against the state party rather than to protect them and their delegation.

That is a different environment than New Hampshire has faced in the recent past and takes us back to past cycles when the state was on its own for the most part to protect its position. After all, in 2008, the first cycle in which all four carve-out states' position were codified, Florida and Michigan blew up the early calendar and forced the early states to break with the exact rule on timing. All moved to protect their positions, but none followed exactly the guidance provided each state for scheduling in the rules. Six states, then, broke the rules. But Florida and Michigan were targeted because they forced the others to move to keep up with the order -- or something close to it -- laid out in the rules. 

Florida and Michigan bore the brunt of the penalties that cycle while Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina were free to pursue positions somewhat consistent with the DNC rules without sanction (even if a stricter reading of the rules could have opened the door to them).

Before 2008, New Hampshire often threatened to torpedo candidates in the state if they opted to campaign in rogue states. Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan and Bob Dole all steered clear of campaigning in Delaware in 1996 when the First state primary fell just four days after the New Hampshire contest. Steve Forbes ignored the insistence from New Hampshire officials and went to Delaware and won, but he paid a price in New Hampshire, finishing a distant fourth. 

However, the Democratic delegate selection rules already deal with that eventuality. Candidates who campaign in rogue states lose any delegates won in those states. Again, that has protected New Hampshire in the past, but what if that same penalty is turned on the Granite state should Gardner ignore any hypothetical rules from the DNC with respect to the timing of delegate selection events?

That is a huge unanswered question on which the past does not adequately guide us. 

If the DNC sets a Nevada primary as the first contest, and then Gardner schedules the Granite state primary earlier than that, then New Hampshire would presumably lose half of its already paltry sum of delegates. But additionally, any candidate who campaigns in New Hampshire under those supposed rules would lose any delegates won as well. [No, delegates are not necessarily the name of the game that early in the calendar.]

Look, all of this is extremely speculative given how far the process is out from a finalized primary calendar, much less a set of delegate selection rules. But the notion of what happens to New Hampshire if the rules turn on the state in 2024 are being undercovered already in the face of the usual clapback of "but our state law" from New Hampshire. 

The one thing that FHQ would say at this juncture in closing is that one should notice that it is the Democratic Party and its rules that are discussed in the scenario analyses above. If Biden seeks renomination, then all of this may be moot. The real action will be on the Republican side. And there does not appear to be any movement as of yet among national Republicans to strip the Granite state of its position in the GOP nomination process. 

But, as usual, time will tell that tale.

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