MANCHESTER, N.H. -- New Hampshire political figures are defending their state’s role as the nation’s first presidential primary after the chairman of the RNC questioned its dominance in the nominating process.
New Hampshire’s non-partisan Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who is solely responsible for setting the state’s primary date, had a simple message for chairman Reince Priebus’ recent suggestion that New Hampshire’s status could be in jeopardy – not for the 2016 race but into the future.
“We are going to be first like we’ve always been. Our tradition is going to continue,” Gardner said.
New Hampshire GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn also defended the state’s role. “The entire nation benefits when candidates are forced to answer the concerns of voters face-to-face in living rooms and backyards across New Hampshire. … The New Hampshire Republican State Committee is committed to fighting any attempt to threaten our status after 2016."
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And New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley agreed. "New Hampshire serves as a testing ground for presidential candidates, giving long-shot candidates a chance and making sure that candidates face tough questions from New Hampshire voters who know their issues,” he said. “New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status must be protected.”
The confidence of those in New Hampshire is etched in state law. “It says the New Hampshire primary shall be held on the second Tuesday of March, or on another date set by the Secretary of State. And that date must be 7 days or more ahead of a state that has a similar election,” Gardner said. Because Iowa holds caucuses and not a primary, New Hampshire allows Iowa’s contests first.
Priebus sounded alarm bells in the state with remarks, reported by National Journal, indicating that early states shouldn’t “get too comfortable” with their prominent role in picking U.S. presidents.
“I don’t think there should ever be any sacred cows as to the primary process or the order,” Priebus was quoted saying, adding, “it’s just the concept of whether or not the same old order and the same old system is the best system for how we choose nominees of our party.”
Priebus floated a few ideas for re-evaluating the party’s primary system after the 2016 election, from a process dividing the nation into five quadrants, to a random lottery assigning states dates over a period of five weeks, according to the report.
New Hampshire RNC Committeeman Steve Duprey didn’t sound too worried about Priebus’ comments. He said the refrain from Priebus is nothing new. “I’ve heard something like this from every RNC chair,” Duprey said.
But Duprey did note that the RNC could have some sway in removing New Hampshire’s first in the nation status. He adds that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that parties can eclipse state law to dictate how their nominees are chosen. The parties decide how delegates are allocated, and if a state obstructs their rules, the party can penalize the state’s number of delegates.
Regardless, the warning from Priebus also did not sit well with other top Republicans in the state.
New Hampshire GOP Vice Chairman Matt Mayberry said New Hampshire voters are qualified to play the critical role.
“We do a great job of vetting candidates. We push them. We make them better candidates. You can’t fly over it. You have to get on the ground and participate. Sometimes it’s comfortable; sometimes it’s not so comfortable. This is the face of retail politics in the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles,” he said.
Brian Murphy, the chairman of the Rockingham County Republican Committee, said New Hampshire’s small size gives lesser known candidates a chance.
“There are plenty of other states where politics is decided by big donors or big special interest groups but those elements don’t exist anywhere near that level in New Hampshire. It requires the sanctity of the voter. It’s the individual voter who is going to make that decision,” Murphy said.
“Reince is trying to talk to all 50 states because he is the national Republican Party chairman,” Mayberry added, “But the candidates can attest this is a great grooming ground.”
And the candidates, who don’t want to upset New Hampshire voters, agree.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is counting on a very strong showing in New Hampshire to propel his candidacy, issued a forceful statement defending the responsibility of early states: "New Hampshire and Iowa have earned the responsibility to hold the first primary and first caucus to launch the nominee for our Party. By requiring that candidates engage directly with the voters, every candidate is tested and judged fairly. I strongly urge the RNC to preserve New Hampshire and Iowa's earned status as first in the nation.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also counts New Hampshire as a critical state, tweeted in support of the primary:
And veteran New Hampshire political icon Tom Rath isn’t worried about the role of the state being threatened. “There are few certainties in life,” he said. “One of those is New Hampshire being first.”