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N.H. Primary Status In The Spotlight As Some Candidates Forgo Traditional Filing

Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., had a staff member file her candidacy for the 2020 N.H. Primary ballot. She is shown here campaigning in Londonderry in September.

Candidates have until the end of this week to file with the New Hampshire Secretary of State to get on the ballot for the 2020 first-in-the-nation presidential primary. But there’s been some attention on the decision by a few candidates – or potential candidates – to not file in person, or at all.

NHPR’s Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers and All Things Considered host Peter Biello sat down to discuss the implications of that decision.

So we're nearing the end of New Hampshire's filing period. What is the filing period? What is its purpose?


Well, its technical purpose is to get candidates on the ballot. They have to file a declaration of candidacy form. They have to pay a thousand dollars. And once they do that, they will officially be on either the Democratic or Republican primary ballot. It's an administrative task. but it's become kind of a ritual. They go to Secretary of State's office. They meet with Secretary of State Bill Gardner. They sit down with local reporters. It's kind of a photo-op, but it's also an opportunity for them to express fealty to the traditions of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status.

A lot of candidates have participated in that tradition in the past few weeks. But a number of potential candidates haven't bothered to show up. Who's not going to get to participate in this part of the tradition?

Well, there are two categories. There's one category we'll put Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, in. He's still a prospective candidate, but his strategists say that he's endeavoring to get on the ballot for states in Super Tuesday.

Mike Bloomberg is a billionaire. He has the means to potentially self-fund a large campaign that would focus on states after the first four states, meaning Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg has indicated interest in running before. He visited New Hampshire early on this cycle. In past years he's considered a third party candidacy during the general election. His public consideration to become a candidate at his point is something that people who see the New Hampshire primary as something worth defending have been very critical of. The chairman of The Democratic Party issued a statement saying that it's disappointing that Mike Bloomberg wouldn't want to participate in the tradition he'd described as "invaluable, important, and unique," and that he wouldn't be tested the same way that other Democratic candidates would be and have been.

There's certainly a turf preservation argument that would be made by local people that if a candidate, particularly of Mike Bloomberg's means, were able to leap into the race after the early voting states and do well ... and, you know, that's an open question, whether Mike Bloomberg's politics are such that he would do well in a Democratic primary. But certainly something that local defenders of the primary see as a meaningful threat.

That was one category. The other category was?

The other category would be people like Julián Castro, former HUD secretary. He said over the weekend that maybe New Hampshire and Iowa shouldn't go first due to their lack of diversity. Castro's Latino and these are criticisms that he's made in various forms for some time. 

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Julian Castro, shown here at the N.H. Democratic Party state convention, said in a recent interview that the early primary states are not representative.

I was listening back to comments he made when he was up here last January, almost a year ago now, where he said he certainly respected the seriousness with which New Hampshire voters try to evaluate candidates, but he raised the question of 'is a state that's 95 plus percent white necessarily the best state to hold the first-in-the-nation Democratic primary?'

This is obviously a familiar criticism that New Hampshire has faced for some time. California Senator Kamala Harris, another candidate of color, decided not to file in person and focus on Iowa. Neither Castro nor Harris were riding particularly high in the polls. And so there's that element of this, too. Would they have the means to compete here? But in Castro's case in particular, one thing that's new is to hear the argument that New Hampshire is insufficiently diverse from a candidate in the heat of a campaign.

Some have claimed that candidates have de-emphasized the need to do well in New Hampshire because they believe Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, senators in neighboring states, have already won this state in some ways. What do you make of that?

If you look at results from past primaries, it's certainly true that there is a neighboring state advantage you could point to. You know, John Kerry's results here, Paul Tsongas, Howard Dean ran strong, certainly Sanders ran quite strong in the last race. There is a thought that is well-founded in reality if you look at the polls, that Sanders and Warren are at the very top of the pack here. So you can understand from a strategic point of view, if you were a candidate thinking, 'Well, I'm unlikely to be guaranteed a top spot in New Hampshire, perhaps Iowa is more wide open.' So, you know, there's definitely some logic to that.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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