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Groups pushing anti-Trump message urge NH Democrats to vote in GOP primary

A voter casts a ballot in Exeter in the 2020 state general election.
Todd Bookman
A voter casts a ballot in Exeter in the 2020 state general election.

If you are an undeclared voter in New Hampshire — or a Democrat open to becoming one ahead of the 2024 presidential primary — political actors of all stripes are working to get your attention in time for the state’s Oct. 6th deadline to change party affiliation.

The groups include political committees hoping to boost former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by inviting Democratic voters to temporarily become independents so they can back his explicitly anti-Trump message in the GOP primary.

There are also separate anti-Trump groups, asking Democrats to “dare to undeclare” so they can defeat or weaken Trump by throwing their support to any of his Republcian challengers.

“I am aware of the efforts that are taking place, because I’ve been getting the mailers and the text messages, personally," said New Hampshire’s top elections official, Secretary of State David Scanlan. “You hear of this sort of thing being done, but this is certainly by far the most organized that I've seen such efforts.”

The idea that candidates can help their chances — or maybe even win the New Hampshire presidential primary — by mobilizing independent or undeclared voters does come up every primary cycle. Generally it’s a strategy employed by candidates hoping to claim a centrist ideological message, or by those running against their party’s establishment.

But this year’s dynamic is different, for a number of reasons. First, there is the candidacy of former President Donald Trump, who while divisive and facing numerous felony charges, is far outpacing his Republicans rivals in 2024 polling.

There is also the growing likelihood that President Biden won’t formally participate in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary election. Biden and national Democrats want South Carolina to hold the first 2024 primary, and the Democratic National Committee has promised to punish candidates who compete in unsanctioned primaries scheduled ahead of that. New Hampshire election officials are meanwhile planning to defy national Democrats and honor the state law that mandates that the first primary ballots are cast here.

At the moment, much of the pressure being exerted is encouraging Democratic voters to switch their registration to “undeclared” in order to cast an anti-Trump ballot in the Republican primary.

Independent political action committees backing Christie are filling mailboxes across New Hampshire reminding registered Democrats that they can participate by temporarily changing their party status.

“Switch parties by October 6th and Vote in the Republican Primary,” reads one mailer from the Tell It Like It Is PAC, featuring images of rioters storming the U.S. Capital. “It’s easy to switch your party affiliation back after! Make Sure Trump Never Sees The Inside Of The Oval Office Again.”

Another PAC, called Granite State Votes, shares a Virginia mailing address with the pro-Christie group and is sending out mailers calling on New Hampshire voters to “save our democracy” by changing their party registration by the end of the week. This group’s message is not explicitly pro-Christie, but the sense of urgency is the same.

Two other linked organizations, Primary Pivot and Primary Power, are peddling a similar but distinctly anti-Trump message, mostly via thousands of text messages to Granite State phones.

With a no-frills website, and $11,000 in funding — raised mostly from friends and family — the groups’ capacity to persuade New Hampshire Democrats in any number to vote in the Republican primary is an open question. The leaders of Primary Pivot and Primary Power made a two-day swing through the state this week, stressing their goal isn’t to lift any specific Republican candidate, only to hurt Trump’s chances in battleground states with open primaries, like New Hampshire.

“We are singularly committed to reminding people that Trump is a unique threat, and to vote for really anybody else on the Republican side,” Kenneth Scheffler, a New York Democrat who leads Primary Pivot, said Tuesday.

Some top New Hampshire Democratic Party stalwarts, meanwhile, are urging party regulars to reject the entreaties to change party affiliation, and to instead rally around the only candidate running who has already beaten Trump: President Biden.

“We want to show our support for Joe Biden — I think that’s important.” said Kathy Sullivan, former chair of New Hampshire Democratic Party. “And I also think it’s important that we show our support for the New Hampshire primary on the Democratic side.”

Sullivan has called for Democrats to write-in Biden’s name on the ballot if he does not choose to run here as part of the Democratic National Committee’s effort to punish any early voting in New Hampshire.

Sullivan is also skeptical that mobilizing people to change their voter registration could ever happen at the scale needed for another Republican to defeat Trump in a primary election.

“You would have to have about 50,000 Democrats switch to undeclared to have an upset in the New Hampshire primary, “ she said.

There is little to suggest anything approaching that level of activity is going on. The Secretary of State's office says there has been no indication from municipal clerks of any widespread surge in party affiliation changes going on.

Close watchers of voter behavior in New Hampshire say inertia tends to be the rule when it comes to voters’ party affiliation choices.

“Very few people switch over from one primary to another primary, maybe 3% of the electorate each cycle,” said UNH political scientist Andy Smith, who has conducted opinion surveys in the state for decades. “It's hard enough to get people to vote for their own party, let alone going in and voting for the other party.”

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Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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