Showing posts with label first in the nation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label first in the nation. Show all posts

Friday, January 20, 2023

New Hampshire Senate Moves to Further Protect First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary with Constitutional Amendment

In a move to further legally enshrine the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the New Hampshire state Senate has introduced a concurrent resolution to create a constitutional amendment.

The end goal of CACR 9 is to take the language of the existing statute -- "the secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election" -- and elevate it to being a part of the Granite state's constitution. All 14 Senate Republicans and one Democratic representative have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

This all makes perfect sense. There is little more actors in New Hampshire state government can do to protect the status the presidential primary in the Granite state. To a person, each elected official in the state already leans heavily on the current state law in any dispute with other states or most recently with national parties when they arise. A constitutional amendment provides a bit more symbolic heft, but in the grand scheme of things, state amendments can be overturned by federal courts just as state laws can be. As such, this exercise is one that is intended to give a New Hampshire audience the reassurance that something is being done to further buttress the state's first-in-the-nation status in the face of a recent threat. 

But the interesting thing about this proposed amendment is that the question of the first-in-the-nation protection would have to go before the voters of New Hampshire and the matter would not appear on the ballot until the November 2024 general election. 

The proposed Yes/No question to be on the ballot:
“Are you in favor of amending the second part of the constitution by inserting after article 68 a new article to read as follows: 
[Art.] 68-a [Presidential Primary Elections.] The secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.”
That this measure is being held until the November 2024 general election -- a presidential election year -- as opposed to some off-year election or primary, maximizes turnout. But that could be viewed as something of a gamble. There is, no doubt, majority support in New Hampshire for keeping the presidential primary first in the order under state law (or state constitution). One would assume that anyway. 

However, for this measure to ultimately be written into the New Hampshire constitution, it would not just have to attain a bare majority of support, it would have to hit a supermajority of two-thirds.1 Maybe that is a shoo-in. Or perhaps, after a prolonged battle over the primary's position with the Democratic National Committee, waged across two calendar years, enough of the electorate in the Granite state in November 2024 has had enough and opts "No," keeping the protection out of the constitution.

Alternatively, voters could be looking to not only punish President Biden, should he be the Democrats' standard bearer in 2024, for the calendar shake up but further protect the primary. That is definitely closer to where the New Hampshire legislators behind this measure see this going. And honestly, it is probably closer to where this would truly end up. But we do not know that for sure this far out from the 2024 election and with a host of other actions likely to take place between now and then. 


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This legislation has been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


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1 To be clear, this is a two-thirds majority of those voters who fill in an answer to the first-in-the-nation ballot question and not two-thirds of all voters who cast a ballot in November 2024. There may be some ballot roll-off from, say, the presidential line at the top of the ballot to the constitutional amendment further down. 


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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

How Do New Hampshirites Really Feel About 2024 and the Presidential Primary Calendar?

FHQ will admit it. We almost took the bait. 

...again. 

Another group of New Hampshire Democrats are voicing their displeasure with President Biden's proposed shake up to the 2024 presidential primary calendar. And once again, it looks like a doubling -- or tripling -- down on the same arguments that Democrats in the Granite state have used in defense of their first-in-the-nation presidential primary since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted the proposed calendar in December. And these Democrats are equally as justified in making that defense directly to the president as others have been over the last month or more. The calendar decision has not been finalized and will not be until the February DNC winter meeting at the earliest. 

But the national media keeps treating this as a national story. And it is! In that national story, New Hampshire Democrats keep digging in, seemingly making the situation worse with national Democrats. In that game it would behoove New Hampshire Democrats to quietly defer to the state law that requires the secretary of state in the Granite state to schedule the presidential primary there at least seven days before any other similar contest. That decision, after all, is out of their hands. So, too, are the changes to state law that the DNCRBC has requested New Hampshire Democrats push for with Republicans in control of the levers of power in the state. 

What continues to be in the control of New Hampshire Democrats is how they push for those changes. Elected Democrats in the New Hampshire General Court can propose legislation to change the date of the primary and to add no-excuse absentee voting. One Democrat has already proposed an expansion of absentee voting conditions (even if those changes likely fall short of what national Democrats have in mind).

Granted, the incentives are just not there to push for changes to the presidential primary date or to propose some alternative method of selecting and allocating national convention delegates. Those are both well within the power of New Hampshire Democrats to do, but to cede any ground -- any -- on first-in-the-nation status is to undermine the whole institution. And Democrats in the Granite state are not going to do that, especially before the decision has been finalized at the national level. 

So we are all left with this constant back and forth of bad optics for New Hampshire Democrats in the national media. A decision still has not been made and the vacuum keeps getting filled by the constant, yet natural, drip of New Hampshire Democrats lobbying the president or the DNCRBC in the lead up to when the calendar decision is to be made.

But rather than continue on that feedback loop where a new communication from Concord to Washington begets yet another national story about New Hampshire Democrats digging their hole even deeper with national Democrats, the focus should perhaps be elsewhere. 

Why is it that New Hampshire Democrats are doing this? Yes, yes. Defense of the presidential primary. Everyone gets that. But why are they doing this in this way when continued defiance only hurts them with the national party -- when it only seemingly brings the state party inescapably closer to sanctions from the national party? 

Much of this has to do with the fact that New Hampshire Democrats have two audiences to which they have to play. Every facet of the above story is about how the decisions state Democrats are making are playing with the national party audience (whether the national party as an organization or Democrats nationally). But how do these decisions play at home? In New Hampshire? 

No, FHQ is not talking about the DNC proposal. The vocalized response thus far seems to be against the changes called for the in the calendar plan adopted by the DNCRBC (but not yet finalized by the DNC). But how do New Hampshirites feel about the defense the Democratic Party in the Granite state is waging? 

Do they feel it is adequate? 

Do they feel it is even necessary? 

This strikes FHQ as a missing link in all the reporting on the New Hampshire Democratic Party response to the DNCRBC decision. The public reaction to the DNCRBC decision has been covered but feelings about the NHDP response have not. And that is important. It is important because NHDP continues to raise the negative ramifications of the national-level process and decision on electoral prospects for Democrats up and down the ballot in the Granite state. 

If New Hampshire Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the electorate are of the opinion that the NHDP response to the national party is adequate, then it may not hurt Democrats in races other than the presidential race in 2024 or only affect them at the margins. [Yes, those margins can matter.] 

If those same folks in New Hampshire feel like the response from NHDP is unnecessary -- that New Hampshire is going to do what New Hampshire is going to do and go first anyway -- then it may not hurt Democrats at all in 2024. Republicans in the state are just screaming into the wind to no avail when raising the issue as a potential wedge. 

But we do not know those things. They are not part of the national narrative on this story. [And the New Hampshire press has incentives to tell this story as a defense of the primary and that alone.] So this story keeps getting told the same way every time it is revealed that some New Hampshire Democrat or group of them is making another pitch to some national Democrat or the DNCRBC. 

And it is not that FHQ is demanding a poll be commissioned. We do not even really have this information anecdotally. We are just being made to take a variety of New Hampshire Democrats' words for it that this calendar move -- whether New Hampshire Democrats defy it or not -- will be injurious to Democrats in 2024. 

Will it? There are ways to answer that and no one is really getting at them. ...at least not yet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Progress Report: New Hampshire's calendar status, post-deadline day

Part of the calendar package that the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted early last month was a deadline for states that were at that time granted conditional waivers to be able to schedule primaries and caucuses in the pre-window period. That deadline -- January 5, 2023 -- was put in place as an early marker by which those states were to have shown state-specific progress toward the goal of moving their contests into the prescribed positions. 

Three of the five states -- South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan -- are in good shape after January 5 based on a variety of factors. South Carolina's state parties, and not the state government, select the date of the presidential primary, Nevada is on the prescribed date already, and the 2022 midterms left Democrats in unified control of state government in Michigan. That puts each on a glide path to compliance with the likely DNC rules for the 2024 presidential nomination cycle.

But the remaining two states have run into problems and failed to meet the January 5 deadline. The easy explanation is that both New Hampshire and Georgia have a Republicans problem. Republicans control state government in New Hampshire and the secretary of state's office in Georgia. 

However, both states were required to do different things by the DNCRBC before January 5 in order to retain their waivers. 

Georgia Democrats had to win over Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) and convince him to move the presidential primary to February 13. They have failed to do so to this point. Yet, the secretary's office has provided the criteria by which the primary could occur earlier: 1) the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries must occur concurrently (as has been the custom in the Peach state and most states with state-run primaries, for that matter) and 2) the primary cannot be so early that it leads to delegate penalties from one or both national parties. February 13 does not work under those criteria, but a date later in the pre-window period may.

New Hampshire Democrats, on the other hand, had a much higher bar to clear before January 5. Although the secretary of state selects the date on which the presidential primary in the Granite state falls -- just as in Georgia -- the DNCRBC instead targeted the legislative process. The panel expected progress toward changing state law to specify the February 6, 2024 date on which the DNC has proposed to schedule the New Hampshire primary and to expand voting to include no-excuse absentee balloting in the state. Democrats in New Hampshire would have likely balked at those demands anyway, but had no real recourse with Republicans uninterested in making those changes in unified control of state government. 

But FHQ will not rehash all of that again. One can always go read about the New Hampshire defense of the first-in-the-nation law, the lose-lose situation in which the Democratic Party there finds itself for the 2024 cycle and what happened in 1984 when New Hampshire was in a similar predicament (and what that might mean for 2024).

Instead, let's examine where this process has been and where it is likely to go given that it looks like both the DNCRBC and New Hampshire Democrats may be digging in for an extended standoff.

Where this has been
I. In the lead up to the December 2 DNCRBC meeting it looked as if the panel might take the path of least resistance toward change: knock Iowa from its perch atop the calendar, move every other early state up and add an Iowa replacement to the mix. That set expectations high that New Hampshire Democrats would be able to easily protect their traditional first primary position. When the Biden calendar proposal was revealed and adopted by the DNCRBC, those high expectations were dashed and New Hampshire Democrats reacted swiftly and defiantly

II. But it was not just that South Carolina supplanted New Hampshire in the president's plan that rankled Democrats in the Granite state. Sure, that stuck in their craws, but the aforementioned hoops through which the DNCRBC required the New Hampshire Democratic Party to jump added insult to injury. The herculean tasks made it appear as if the DNCRBC had only provided the New Hampshire primary a waiver-in-name-only; a hollow protection of the state's first-in-the-nation status in the Democratic process given impossibly high requirements. Again, the reaction was (pre-Christmas) defiance.

III. Then came January 5. And the reaction was again defiance but this time mixed with a request that the DNCRBC not punish New Hampshire Democrats for being unable to meet "unrealistic and unattainable" goals. That was further buttressed by the New Hampshire Republicans in power from the governor to the legislative leaders and the secretary of state on down signaling that no changes were imminent. 


Where it is going
IV. However, since there are clear roadblocks to compliance in the cases of both New Hampshire and Georgia, an extension was granted. That grace period will provide both sides -- the DNCRBC and, in this case, New Hampshire Democrats -- some time to consider alternatives. 

V. Extension or not, all states conditionally granted waivers to hold nominating contests in the pre-window have until February 1 -- the night before the February 2-4 Democratic Winter meeting kicks off -- to complete all action on making the changes required by the DNRBC. That early February meeting is when the DNC is set to vote on the calendar proposal adopted by the DNCRBC in December. 

VI. Following the final DNC adoption of the calendar rules for 2024 state parties will spend the spring finalizing draft delegate selection plans, including when the state's nominating contest is scheduled to occur. Those plans must face a public comment period of at least one month before being submitted for DNCRBC review before the early stages of May 2023. 

VII. Thereafter, any points of contention -- any noncompliance issues in state delegate selection plans -- will be hammered out between the state parties in question and the DNCRBC before final approval is granted (or not) during the summer and into the fall. Noncompliance at that stage will trigger penalties. The automatic penalty for a timing violation is a 50 percent reduction in a state's delegation. But if the New Hampshire secretary of state schedules the presidential primary for any date other than the one prescribed by DNC rules and Granite state Democrats go along with it (defying DNC rules), then the party is likely to draw the Florida/Michigan treatment from the DNCRBC. It is also at the discretion of the DNCRBC to go beyond the 50 percent penalty and in the case of Florida and Michigan, both of which planned to and held noncompliant primaries in 2008, that penalty was a raised to 100 percent. [Of course, there are caveats to that penalty.]

FHQ will stop there. To go further is to speculate more than I am willing given the intended scope here.

The point is less to lay out the above timeline than it is to show that New Hampshire Democrats have already had around three opportunities to respond to the DNCRBC concerning the proposed changes to the calendar. They will have roughly four more chances to do so in the coming year both before the national party rules are finalized and after. 

How they respond (or continue to respond) matters.

There is a reason FHQ said this when the president's calendar plan was released on the eve of the December DNCRBC meeting:
"If I'm folks in NH, I'm real quiet right now other than to say, "There is a state law. We will defer to the secretary of state on the matter as the law requires." That's it. Quietly and happily go along for the ride and say you did everything you could to lobby for a change."
That drew the ire of some in New Hampshire at the time, but it reflects the DNC rules and the nature of how they have been interpreted over time. Those rules, specifically Rule 21, require state parties to have "acted in good faith" and to have taken "all provable positive steps" towards making any changes on the state level to bring the state's delegate selection plan into compliance with DNC rules. 

DNCRBC co-Chair Jim Roosevelt echoed the language in that rule when he recently discussed the New Hampshire and Georgia situations with NPR. 
"Hopefully there will be flexibility," said Jim Roosevelt, co-chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, of his colleagues. The committee is likely to meet and vote on granting the extensions in the coming weeks before a planned DNC-wide vote to approve or deny the new calendar at a meeting in Philadelphia in early February. 
Roosevelt said the DNC has worked with other states in the past as long as they can show they are making their "best effort" and taking "provable, positive steps."
Notice that. Roosevelt mentions both DNCRBC-side flexibility on providing more time but also in working with state parties that will meet them in the middle somewhere. 

New Hampshire Democrats have certainly leaned in on the law the state has on the books to protect its first-in-the-nation status in the time since the calendar proposal was unveiled. But whether they have to this point made their "best efforts" at change or taken "provable, positive steps" toward compliance is debatable (if not in the eye of the beholder). 

The DNC will likely adopt some calendar plan next month in Philadelphia. There may even be some changes to accommodate New Hampshire and/or Georgia. But if the New Hampshire primary remains tethered to the Nevada primary on February 6 in those adopted rules, then how New Hampshire Democrats react may go some way toward telling interested onlookers how the DNCRBC is likely to respond. 

Does the New Hampshire Democratic Party delegate selection plan submitted to the DNCRBC for review go along with the proposed February 6 date or leave that part open pending the decision of Secretary of State Scanlan (R)? 

Do Democrats in the New Hampshire state legislature make any moves to change the primary date (futile though those efforts may ultimately be)? Do they make some attempt to consolidate the Democratic primary with town meetings in March (as the primary was initially intended to be prior to 1975)? 

Does the New Hampshire Democratic Party offer to hold a party-run contest? 

Those are all signals of, if not outright, good faith moves and/or provable, positive steps. And those steps may in some cases still trigger a 50 percent delegate reduction, but it may also help the party avoid making the New Hampshire primary into a "state-sponsored public opinion poll" in the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination process. 

Continued defiance in the eyes of the DNCRBC will not help avoid that fate. 

But ultimately New Hampshire Democrats may bank on the fact that the DNC will eventually cave and not be able to enforce any effort to keep a swing state delegation out of the convention. Of course, a president who wanted to diversify the early calendar who becomes presumptive nominee with little or only token opposition and leads said convention may have some input on the matter. 

However, that is a ways down the road and both sides -- New Hampshire Democrats and the DNCRBC -- have some built-in off ramps (as laid out above) along the way. Will either or both take them or will the showdown continue into 2024? 



Saturday, December 24, 2022

New Hampshire Democrats' Lose-Lose Predicament

Look, FHQ does not want to double dip on the New Hampshire/DNC rift over the Granite state's position on the 2024 presidential primary calendar. I already weighed in at length in response to the Boston Globe op-ed the New Hampshire congressional delegation -- all Democrats -- ran last week in defense of the Granite state's first-in-the-nation status. 

Plus, there is ample time to discuss these things. There probably isn't infinite time to deal with the issues -- fixes take time -- but there is more than enough time to talk about them. 

As such and to reiterate, New Hampshire will have the first primary in 2024. There, I said it. It will be first primary at the very least in the Republican process. However, despite the rapid-fire defiance from Granite state Democrats there remain questions about the fate of their 2024 process. While several New Hampshire Democrats have suggested the DNC cannot effectively enforce the penalties on the Democratic delegation from New Hampshire, the simple truth of the matter is that that hypothesis has not been tested in the post-reform era under these exact conditions. New Hampshire does not have a (direct) guaranteed first primary position in the DNC's proposed process for the first time since 1984.1 And it has less latitude as a result.

By definition, then, this is a different game that the New Hampshire Democrats are playing during the 2024 cycle. And their options are more limited. 

That reality is true regardless of the arguments the state party and their surrogates are making. The letter that Chairman Raymond Buckley of the New Hampshire Democratic Party sent to DNC Chair Jaime Harrison as part of this blitz to defend the early presidential primary status makes the usual arguments.2 State law, fragile but consistent Democratic advantage in the Granite state, etc. 

But Chairman Buckley's notion of the "undue burden" the DNC is placing on the New Hampshire Democratic Party triggered a few thoughts I had upon first seeing the conditions of the state party's pre-window waiver. The chairman is not exactly wrong that the contingencies will force New Hampshire into noncompliance. That was clear early on. Yet, while Buckley's attention was on the early vote requirements and participatory comparisons to the other proposed early states, my thoughts were elsewhere. 

Why did the contingencies focus exclusively on routing change in New Hampshire through the Republican-controlled state government? Yes, that is an avenue for changing the state laws on primary scheduling and adding early voting. But that is just one path. Why was there no focus on the secretary of state in New Hampshire? After all, it is that office that holds the date-setting power for the presidential primary in the Granite state. 

For example, why not focus on the "similar election" language in New Hampshire state law. The secretary of state is charged with scheduling the presidential primary at least seven days before any other similar election. But what is a similar election? There is no definition of it in state law. The layman shorthand has always been that Iowa has a caucus and that is why the Hawkeye state has gone first without falling into any major tiff with New Hampshire over the years. 

However, former Secretary Bill Gardner always gave a more nuanced explanation than the simplistic primary/caucus binary. Iowans in both parties, after all, were voting ahead of New Hampshirites every cycle. Gardner looked at those acts differently. Republicans were voting, yes, but they were voting on delegates to the next step of the caucus/convention process and not national convention delegates. In other words, there was no direct connection between those precinct caucus votes and the ultimately delegate allocation. Republican caucus votes at snowy Des Moines precinct caucuses, for example, were not binding in the way they were and are in New Hampshire. Similarly, the votes of Iowa Democrats caucusing in school gyms and living rooms across the state traditionally translated into state delegate equivalents and were reported as such (and not as Candidate X won Y delegates from Iowa). 

In recent cycles, however, those lines have blurred some without any real (negative) response from Gardner. Iowa Republicans made those initial caucus votes binding in 2016 in response to a change in Republican National Committee rules that cycle. And while Democrats in Iowa retained the state delegate equivalent standard in 2020, that was not the only metric reported on caucus night and national convention delegate counts were locked based on precinct caucus results

The point here is that Gardner's rationale changed over time, or rather, implementation in Iowa changed without Gardner responding by jumping New Hampshire past the Hawkeye state caucuses. So, not only is there no definition of similar election in state law, but there is demonstrated discretion with how a New Hampshire secretary of state can approach the similar election conundrum. There is some wiggle room.

Sure, current New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan is a Republican, but this is his first go-round in the quadrennial calendar wars as secretary of state. Scanlan has already vowed to follow the primary law, but again, why did the DNC not focus on him in the contingencies for New Hampshire's pre-window waiver instead of the Republican-controlled legislature? 

Perhaps, for example, a primary in which an incumbent president is running unopposed or largely unopposed is not a similar election. Little is on the line. Perhaps another state's primary in which candidates are not on the ballot but are on it in New Hampshire, a state famous for its low bar for candidate entry, is not a similar contest. 2024 may be that cycle and South Carolina and Nevada may have those types of primaries. Maybe. But put a pin in that for a second. 

In addition, rather than aiming for the secretary of state, the DNC contingencies could have focused on a different, middle ground. Look at that New Hampshire presidential primary statute again. Ideally, under the law, the New Hampshire primary is supposed to occur on the second Tuesday in March concurrent with March town meetings across the state. It is only when that is not possible -- when that date is not seven days before any similar election -- that the presidential primary in the Granite state shifts to an earlier point on the calendar. 

Since town meetings still occur separate from the New Hampshire presidential primary in years when it is before the second Tuesday in March, perhaps the DNC could have built a contingency that honed in on that dual system -- the presence of a presidential primary and a separate set of town meetings. The Republican legislature may not want to change the date, but they could be more receptive to a later option tethered to town meeting day for either Democrats or parties without an active (competitive) nomination race. Again, the Republican legislature in New Hampshire could be more receptive to that sort of maneuver. 

Then again, an option that Chairman Buckley failed to note in his letter to DNC Chair Harrison was a party-run option. The New Hampshire Democratic Party could run its own contest -- and/or fight the state law if they have to in order to hold one -- that falls on a later date on the calendar, maybe even town meeting day. That option is out there. But Buckley did not mention that. And the DNC did not make an alternate party-run contest a condition for the state party to successfully win its pre-window waiver because the party prefers a state-run option where one is available (just not a noncompliant one). 

Of course, there is a reason Buckley did not mention that party-run option. It is the same reason that the secretary of state likely would not carve out a more exclusive definition of similar election and why the Republican legislature likely would not change state law to accommodate a later option (even one that preserved the first slot for itself). None of those actors would make any of those moves because any one of them would undermine the first-in-the-nation law and the unified front everyone in the state has attempted to maintain over the years. 

It is not that there are not options, it is that New Hampshire actors little incentive to utilize them. Not yet anyway. New Hampshire Democrats are banking on the DNC caving again and not enforcing its rules. However, the 2024 cycle is different. Again, New Hampshire Democrats do not have the same guarantees from the national party that they have had in the past. And that changes the calculus.

That is the problem. That is the lose-lose situation in which New Hampshire Democrats find themselves mired. If they remain defiant, they run the risk of running afoul of DNC rules and being assessed penalties that could set the party back both within the state and potentially nationally. If they bend or aid in bending to one of the options above, then they have undermined forever the state law that the party has used as a shield throughout the post-reform era. There are no wins there; only a hope from the New Hampshire Democratic Party that the DNC folds in all of this.

Maybe, but it will be a messy process in getting to that point.


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1 Before 1984, both New Hampshire and Iowa were indirectly exempt in the DNC rules or unaffected. See more here.

2 Below is the letter Buckley sent to the DNC chair.



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Sunday, December 18, 2022

New Hampshire Congressional Delegation Defends First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary

And folks, why would they not? 

It is completely natural for New Hampshire Democrats like Sen. Hassan, Sen. Shaheen, Rep. Kuster and Rep. Pappas to defend this particular piece of political real estate. Every New Hampshire politician, regardless of party, has done so for at least the half century of the post-reform era. But it is worth considering -- on this side of the decision by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) to strip Iowa of its position altogether and shunt New Hampshire's presidential primary into the second position alongside Nevada -- whether the old arguments have grown stale. New Hampshirites will likely argue no, but 2024 represents the first cycle that New Hampshire's position in the pecking order has not been directly protected in the Democratic process since 1980 (and the first time in the post-reform era that its first-in-the-nation status has not been at least indirectly protected).

Things are different. But the arguments have remained largely unchanged from past cycles when the primary came under threat. 

Retail politics
The congressional delegation starts by making the claim that the New Hampshire presidential primary occupying the first position makes both the country and democracy stronger. That having given power to voters and not party bosses in the process over a century ago has allowed the state to nurture and harness a certain participatory culture. In combination with the small size of the Granite state that all makes retail politics maximally possible. 

Sure, it takes time to develop a culture like that, but retail politics is possible elsewhere. In South Carolina, for instance. The Palmetto state is bigger than New Hampshire, but it is not bank-bustingly bigger. Candidates can meet face to face with voters, hear their concerns cheaply and easily, and be tested just the same. South Carolina Democrats have been a part of the pre-window since the 2008 cycle, and no, that is not a century's worth of experience, but it offers an electorate that is more diverse than what the Granite state has to offer. And it is debatable whether an unrepresentative primary is better for the country or democracy in a narrow or broad sense. The DNCRBC has placed a bet that diversity matters in the Democratic (and democratic) process. 

Blackmail
Another part of the New Hampshire primary culture that the four member congressional delegation leans on is blackmail. That will be read in a negative light, but it is not intended in that way. Look, New Hampshire decision makers across the board have taken a "protect the first-in-the-nation position at any costs" approach for a very long time. Decision makers in any other state under the same conditions would do and would have done the same thing that folks in New Hampshire have been doing for the last 50 years. 

But part of that effort has definitely been blackmail through organizing candidate boycotts when other states have threatened to encroach on the New Hampshire primary's primacy. The threat to candidates has always been some form of "pledge that you will not campaign in the aggressor state or you are done here in the Granite state." In other words, cross New Hampshire and prepare to have your presidential aspirations kneecapped. That happened in 1996 in a standoff with Delaware and again in 2012 when Nevada Republicans tried to carve out an early spot once pushed there by a rogue Florida primary.

The problem in the 2024 cycle is that the DNCRBC has turned the tables on New Hampshire. By locking the presidential primary in the Granite state in the second position behind South Carolina in the rules, a New Hampshire shift would open the state up to penalties. But more importantly, candidates who campaign in a potentially rogue New Hampshire would then not only be stripped of any delegates won in the state, but also be subject to possible prohibition from candidate debates for campaigning in the state.

Of course, the New Hampshire congressional delegation does not broach the topic of unofficial candidate boycotts. That is not the particular blackmail they bring to the table. Instead, they raise the prospect that New Hampshire Republicans will use state Democrats' supposed negligence against the state party and lure crucial independents into the still-first Republican presidential primary. Furthermore, they argue that those same independents may stick with the GOP in a general election, potentially tipping the balance against Democrats in a narrowly divided state, and by extension, possibly costing the party Senate control and/or electoral votes. 

All of that is true. Those things could happen. But it could also be that President Biden seeks reelection, ends up running largely unopposed, and New Hampshire independents flock to the competitive Republican presidential primary anyway. Is it a gamble for the president and the DNC to potentially irk a sliver to a lot of New Hampshire voters by coming down hard on the state Democratic Party for fighting to maintain its traditional position? It undoubtedly would be if it is not already. But are independents, Democratic-leaning or otherwise, going to vote for a Republican nominee in the Trump mold (or Trump himself) over Biden because of the primary? The answer is maybe (or if one is in New Hampshire, YES!). But that seems to be a gamble the president and those around him are willing to take in this fight. There are very few scenarios where New Hampshire's four electoral votes serve as the tipping point in the electoral college. It is possible although less probable than other, bigger states. And neither New Hampshire US Senate seat is up until 2026. Is that gamble worth it? Time will tell that tale. 

The Nevada pairing
Dipping back into the well of retail politics, the congressional delegation also draws attention to the injurious impact that not only the New Hampshire primary not being first, but pairing it with the Nevada primary will have. That is not wrong, but the group missed an opportunity to point out a major drawback in the president's calendar proposal. It is not just that the New Hampshire/Nevada pairing will put a cross-country strain on campaigns, but that three contests (including a leadoff South Carolina primary) in the proposed calendar's first four days turns a typical slow build up through small states into a more nationalized event. 

The New Hampshire/Nevada pairing would have an impact on the retail politics that the process has typically known, but three contests on top of each other as proposed would further hamper face-to-face contact with voters and have implications for how the field of candidates winnows. The winnowing issues are less problematic if Biden runs for reelection and is largely unopposed. But setting the precedent of an early calendar cluster in 2024 may lay the groundwork for a repeat of the untested experiment in 2028 when it may matter substantially more in a competitive environment.

State law
Finally, the New Hampshire congressional delegation defends the state's first-in-the-nation primary with the trump card decision makers in the state ultimately end up pulling every time a threat arises: state law. There is a state law. It does require the secretary of state to schedule the New Hampshire presidential primary for a position on the calendar at least seven days in advance of any other similar contest. And lest one forget, the state law also codifies how the parties are to select and allocate delegates based on the results of the primary. So while it is tempting to argue that the secretary of state is the actor bound by the law, the state parties are tied to it as well. 

Granted, it is also true that the courts have continually sided with political parties under free association grounds when these sorts of conflicts arise between law and party rules. The New Hampshire Democratic Party could fight elements of this law as well. But in so doing, the party would further undermine the statute and the position of the New Hampshire presidential primary on the calendar. Plus, the party can allocate delegates under DNC rules, but it cannot unilaterally change the date of the presidential primary. That decision is out of the party's hands. 

And that is the predicament New Hampshire Democrats find themselves in on this issue. For the first time their first-in-the-nation primary is neither directly nor indirectly protected by DNC rules. And their arguments come down to basically a state law that could be challenged in court by the state party (if it did not want to further threaten the primary's position) and a variation on the blackmail New Hampshire actors have made for half a century. The conditions are different for 2024 and the arguments look different in that light.

The New Hampshire presidential primary will be first. But it will be first in the Republican process. The secretary of state will see to that. But the question remains whether New Hampshire Democrats will break in the unprecedented standoff with the DNC.


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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Circling of the Wagons for First-in-the-Nation in New Hampshire

One hesitates to suggest that the process is beginning, but political actors in New Hampshire are continuing the process of defending the Granite state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary for the 2024 cycle. Typically one of the few bipartisan items in some of the early calendar states is that the state parties are on the same page when it comes to preserving their early and privileged positions on the presidential primary calendar. 

That is why it has been so notable that there has not been unity on the topic in Iowa across parties much less within the Democratic Party of Iowa in particular. But in New Hampshire, how the state plays the game of primary defense is a bit different. For all of the talk of the state parties and what they may do in maintaining the status quo, the decision on the presidential primary date ultimately lies with Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D). State law places the presidential primary date-setting power squarely in Gardner's domain and he has been adept over the last nearly half century in waiting out all challengers and scheduling the Granite state primary at the front of the queue. 

But that does not mean that the state parties in New Hampshire have no recourse, no role to play. While Gardner has probably the most effective tool at his disposal, it is one that is typically wielded late in the invisible primary process. The state parties, on the other hand, fill a void earlier in the that sequence, serving as liaisons to the national parties. That process is happening anew for 2024 now. And to the extent the two state parties can act in concert (with respect to presidential primary positioning), the better the united front message will potentially play with the national parties, the player in all of this that crafts and sets the rules that guide the nomination process and how the states and state parties act within it. 

So, whereas Iowa may not be presenting the usual united front, it looks as if feelers are being sent out between the parties in New Hampshire in order to save first-in-the-nation status there for another cycle. At-large DNC member, Joanne Dowdell (NH) recently pledged to work with and within the DNC and with Granite state Republicans to keep the status quo as it has been for more than a century in New Hampshire. 

But there is a process to all of that. And although Dowdell in an address to the New Hampshire Democratic Party state committee recently noted that new DNC chair, Jaime Harrison, will choose members for the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee who will be ratified in a September national party meeting, that is not where the calendar machination begin for 2024. In fact, they began remotely coming out of the 2020 Democratic National Convention last August. It was there that a report on the 2020 nomination process was commissioned. And that report is due at the end of March. 

That report is likely key for how New Hampshire (and Iowa for that matter) will approach any attempted defense of their status for 2024. If the report calls for change at the beginning of the calendar in an effort to diversify the early calendar electorate to bring it more in line with the Democratic primary electorate, then the approach will be different than if the report is silent on the matter. New Hampshire (and Iowa) would react differently based on that. Representatives on the DNC from those states would interact differently with their fellow DNC members on the DNCRBC. Now yes, Chair Harrison does have some latitude with respect to who gets named to the RBC, but that is a second order concern at this point behind that 2020 autopsy. Membership on the RBC matters -- and Iowa and New Hampshire will have representation there -- but it will be colored by the forthcoming report.

For now, however, that New Hampshirites of both parties are continuing to band together in defense of first-in-the-nation status is not as surprising as it is typical. But it contrasts with what is happening in Iowa for now.



Friday, May 10, 2013

Governor Branstad is Rightish: 2016 Iowa Presidential Primary

Come for the talk about candidates coming to the Hawkeye state, but stay for the nugget deeply nestled in Mike O'Brien's First Read piece on the possibility of an Iowa primary in 2016:
The governor also dismissed any suggestion that Iowa might move away from its traditional caucus system in light of a Republican National Committee report earlier this year discouraging caucuses and conventions as nominating processes. Those formats, rather than a traditional balloted primary, sometimes gives impassioned activists more of an ability to sway the outcome.  
"I don't think that we could go to a primary without being in a conflict situation with New Hampshire," Branstad said. "And we've always had a wonderful understanding and agreement with New Hampshire that we would have the first caucus, and they would have the first primary. I think that system has worked well, and I'd like to see us keep it."
"Understanding and agreement" aside, Branstad is correct in pointing out the potential conflict that an Iowa shift from caucuses to a primary would have with the the law on the books in the Granite state:
Presidential Primary Election. The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, or holds a caucus or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous. Said primary shall be held in connection with the regular March town meeting or election or, if held on any other day, at a special election called by the secretary of state for that purpose. Any caucus of a state first held before 1975 shall not be affected by this provision.
There are a couple of noteworthy items here.
1) As it stands now, Iowa adopting a primary as the mode of delegate selection would seemingly violate the New Hampshire law. A primary would a) not be a caucus and b) could be deemed by New Hampshire Secretary (of state) Gardner a "contest at which delegates are chosen for the national convention". Though, it should be noted that that interpretation provides the secretary wide latitude. Technically delegates are not chosen for the national convention in a primary unless either a) the delegates are on the primary ballot and elected directly on the day of the primary or b) there is a simultaneous caucus/state convention occurring alongside the primary.

In the typical scenario, the primary would only bind delegates (to be chosen later through a caucus/convention system) to particular candidates. Secretary Gardner could then justify allowing an Iowa primary before New Hampshire. However, that would run the risk of applying a different rationale to Iowa than any other similar primary state. Why Iowa, then, and not some other primary state? Of course, the national parties will or would have already singled Iowa out relative to other primary states. The rules of both parties -- as one can best envision them at this point in 2013 -- exempt Iowa but not other states. That is significant. The national party rules, then, make Iowa dissimilar to other states, but would an Iowa primary be too similar to New Hampshire under the law there. There is probably enough wiggle room in the current law to allow it if, you know, Iowa actually decided to adopt a primary as a means of allocating national convention delegates.

Ideally, that last line in the law -- first added to the New Hampshire presidential primary law before 2012 -- would or could be altered to directly identify Iowa or by accounting for the national party exemption.

2) Another interesting twist -- question, really -- is what the new Republican rules do to the Iowa-New Hampshire relationship. Recall that the RNC members at the 2013 spring meeting in Los Angeles reaffirmed the new rule handed down from the Tampa convention that statewide contests be binding. In other words, if statewide precinct-level contests are binding, then potentially an Iowa caucus or primary violates the "or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions" portion of the law. Granted, that is an or provision and not an and provision. Iowa would only have to meet one of those requirements to comply with the New Hampshire law (or perhaps more appropriately to not trigger the New Hampshire-side reaction -- earlier primary -- in law).

But let's assume (just for fun) that Iowa -- caucus or primary -- had to meet that specific part of the law. Would the Hawkeye state with a binding Republican contest run afoul of Secretary Gardner in New Hampshire? No, again, the language is important: delegates chosen. Unless either of the primary exceptions above are built in, then Iowa would be fine. Keep in mind that the Iowa Democratic caucuses have been binding according to the DNC delegate selection rules for quite a number of cycles now. And that has never served as a point of contention in New Hampshire.

Neither would a binding Republican contest; primary or caucus.

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There were some issues with the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, but those were never problems that were not solvable by a means other than switching to a primary as the mode of delegate allocation. FHQ would be surprised if a switch is made and even if it was, it would not necessarily conflict with the law.

That said, if you're New Hampshire, it is awfully difficult to the hold the nation's first primary second. That's where Branstad's reference to understanding and agreement is key.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Hampshire Primary Scheduled for January 10

[Click to Enlarge]

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner this morning set January 10 as the date of the presidential primary in the Granite state. With New Hampshire in place -- behind the January 3 caucuses in Iowa and ahead of the Republican primary in South Carolina on January 21 -- the front of the 2012 presidential primary calendar is as set in stone as it will be. There may be some additional shuffling among a handful of states -- North Carolina and Massachusetts may move and Missouri Democrats may stick with the non-compliant February 7 primary -- but none will threaten the alignment that has now developed at the beginning of the calendar.
Tuesday, January 3:
Iowa caucuses 
Tuesday, January 10:
New Hampshire 
Saturday, January 21:
South Carolina Republican primary 
Tuesday, January 31:
Florida 
Saturday, February 4:
Nevada Republican caucuses
Notes:
Bill Gardner set the date of the 2012 primary three weeks ahead of the pace set in 2007. Thanksgiving eve -- the date on which the New Hampshire secretary of state set the date of the 2008 primary -- is three weeks from today.

Ten weeks from yesterday is January 10. That means there are 69 days until the New Hampshire primary. Set your itineraries accordingly, candidates.

December 2011 primaries or caucuses are now officially off the table. Not to worry. 2015 is right around the corner.


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