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New Hampshire Primary Voter Casting First American Ballot of Nineteen Eighty
Neil Tillotson, Dixville Notch town moderator, prepares to cast the first primary vote in the nation as Mrs. Cora Whitton, Supervisor of the Checklist, looks at her watch seconds before midnight on Feb. 26, 1980.Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Analysis: Displacing N.H. as the first presidential primary state won’t be easy

The chief obstacles for Democratic plan: The Granite State's law and a Republican Party that is sticking to the traditional calendar.


TectonicTransformationalA major shakeup

Those are some of the words being used to describe the news that President Joe Biden is recommending that South Carolina — and not New Hampshire — serve as the Democrats’ first presidential primary state, as Democratic National Committee members gather in Washington settle on a new primary calendar.

As first reported by the Washington Post, Biden has asked the DNC to make South Carolina go first, followed a week later by New Hampshire and Nevada, and then Georgia and Michigan.

But there’s another word that also can be used to describe the potential change, especially as it relates to New Hampshire.


For one thing, New Hampshire state law mandates that it be the nation’s first presidential primary state. (Iowa has traditionally gone before New Hampshire because it holds a caucus, not a primary.)

So if Democrats move South Carolina ahead of New Hampshire, then the Granite State’s all-important secretary of state would just schedule the primary ahead of South Carolina — as New Hampshire has done with past challenges to its first-in the-nation status.

“As frustrating as this decision is, it holds no bearing over when we choose our primary date,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a statement per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, Jonathan Allen and Natasha Korecki

“We look forward to hosting candidates in New Hampshire for the 2024 presidential primary,” Shaheen added. 

The other — and maybe more immediate — obstacle is that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who have a competitive presidential primary race in 2024.

At least for right now. 

Assuming President Biden runs for re-election and receives no real opposition, Republicans will be the party holding a race for president, and their order is the same as it’s been: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

So even if Democrats change their calendar for South Carolina to be the first presidential primary, political candidates and journalists will decamp to Iowa and New Hampshire in 2023-2024 to cover the GOP race. 

But advocates pushing to reform the Democratic primary calendar say that making these changes now — rather that in 2028 — pave the way for an orderly transition, instead of when numerous Democratic candidates are jockeying for the nomination. 

“This is the time to do it,” said one member the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. 

Reform advocates also say that if New Hampshire tries to jump ahead of South Carolina, then the Democratic National Committee can use potential penalties — like limiting debate participation or access to the vote file — to discourage candidates from campaigning in New Hampshire. 

But that could create another problem: It would be a snub to battleground state that has been friendly to statewide Democratic candidates over the last few election cycles. 

And in a close presidential contest, New Hampshire’s four electoral votes might matter.