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National Democrats ready to vote on Biden plan to move NH from first primary slot in 2024

The Democratic National Committee kicks off its winter meeting Thursday in Philadelphia.

On the agenda is President Biden’s plan to reshuffle the 2024 presidential nominating calendar; and on the chopping block is New Hampshire’s place at the head of the line.

Biden is proposing South Carolina vote first in 2024. Under his plan, New Hampshire and Nevada would both hold their primaries one week later.

Based on the DNC Rules and Bylaws committee’s overwhelming vote last week to endorse Biden’s proposal (New Hampshire’s representative on the committee, Joanne Dowdell, was the lone dissenter), local Democrats looking to preserve the Granite State’s place in the calendar have their work cut out for them.

Here are three things to consider as the DNC meets this week:

For national Democrats, NH’s primary is a “privilege,” not a right.

The tenor of last week’s DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting was telling on this point. Every member who spoke and who wasn’t from New Hampshire expressed frustration with how state Democrats are handling the proposed calendar debate. One point made repeatedly: New Hampshire’s overwhelmingly white demographic makeup doesn’t much reflect the party’s national demographics or honor the segment of the party – voters of colors, and Black voters in particular – who put Biden on the path to the White House in 2020.

The idea that New Hampshire doesn’t truly represent the national Democratic Party is not new. The same also goes for similar arguments about Iowa. While some Democrats here feel New Hampshire is being tossed over the side for Iowa’s incompetence in administering the last caucus, it’s also clear that, for plenty of national Democratic officials, New Hampshire’s continued insistence on going first feels at a minimum tone-deaf or maybe even a bit racist.

“Hanging their argument on a 100-year-old privilege is really for me, as an African American woman, quite disturbing, in as much as that this law that they passed was before even before Black people had the right to vote,” New York DNC member Leah Daughtry, a Dartmouth graduate, noted in last week’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting.

“First in the Nation” isn’t a universal assessment of NH’s role – then or now.

At that same committee meeting last week, DNC member Mo Elleithee, who has worked in New Hampshire as a presidential campaign staffer, was pointed about New Hampshire on that score.

While praising the state as a “magical place” for politics, Elleithee was blunt when assessing where he thinks New Hampshire falls short. He condemned New Hampshire Democratic officials for arguing that Biden has put his 2024 prospects in jeopardy here – and for claiming that meeting the DNC goals to enact early voting and no-excuse absentee voting here were impossible.

“I am a little bit frustrated to hear folks in New Hampshire’s Democratic establishment sounding more like the Republican governor publicly,” Elleithee said at one point during the Jan. 25 meeting.

Elleithee also took issue with the legitimacy of New Hampshire’s long-standing “first in the nation” claim, noting that for decades, the primary here was preceded by the Iowa caucus.

“Let’s be real here… it has always been viewed as the second-in-the-nation contest. Based on our proposal it is still the second-in-the-nation contest. We have maintained the tradition New Hampshire has asked us to maintain,” Elleithee emphasized.

This threat to the primary is different, but in some ways the bottom line remains the same

That this challenge to New Hampshire is coming from a seemingly united national political party, led by a sitting president eyeing his own reelection, makes it different than fending off another state hoping to leapfrog New Hampshire in the nominating calendar.

But New Hampshire does still have some things going for it.

One is that the state has little reason to cooperate. State law mandates New Hampshire hold its primary a week before any similar election. State officials, including Gov. Chris Sununu and Secretary of State David Scanlan, say that law will be obeyed regardless of the DNC’s wishes.

The DNC can sanction the state Democratic Party – by stripping delegates or denying members access to the 2024 national party convention. But there is little indication that such penalties will be persuasive.

“I appreciate that they are frustrated.,” state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said last week. “But they are from Washington, they are used to getting their way at first snap and they are realizing they are in a situation that is a little more complicated than they realized.”

Buckley wasn't explicit about what he meant by that, but he may have been alluding to the fact that what makes New Hampshire’s primary relevant – the political context, and whether candidates choose to show up and campaign here – isn’t under any political party’s absolute control. The DNC can, and likely will, create incentives for candidates to not participate here in 2024. But candidates will ultimately make their own calculations.

That’s one thing Democrats interested in keeping the primary here intact can pin their hopes on.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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