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National GOP Chair Says N.H. Could Lose First-in-the-Nation Primary Spot

Associated Press

For as long as New Hampshire has hosted the nation’s first presidential primary contest, it seems outsiders have been trying to dilute the state’s influence. The latest such attempt comes from the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus.

In an interview with the National Journal, Priebus says he’s been supportive of early nominating states like New Hampshire and Iowa in the past, but “I don’t think anyone should get too comfortable.”

Priebus goes on to say GOP leaders will evaluate all aspects of the presidential primary system after the 2016 election, which may result in some new approaches to how the party chooses its nominee in future cycles. Possibilities raised by Priebus include a rotating schedule in which different states get a shot at voting early each election, a random lottery for determining the voting order, and shortening the entire process into a two month calendar.

  “I don’t think there should ever be any sacred cows as to the primary process or the order,” Priebus said.

The issue of early state influence will likely be a major topic when the RNC rules committee meets in July at the party’s national convention in Cleveland. In fact, role of New Hampshire and Iowa in presidential politics has been a recurring sore point for leaders of both parties for years.

And while protecting New Hampshire’s pole position is one of the few issues that state Democrats and Republicans traditionally agree upon, both sides used Priebus’ comments to attack each other yesterday.

New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley blamed Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte for failing to protect New Hampshire’s primary from her party’s national leaders. (Ayotte's response to Priebus? “Past efforts to diminish the role of our primary have never been successful, and I will always fight to protect New Hampshire’s first in the nation status.”)

State GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, in turn, accused Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan of “trying to rig” the Democratic primary this year with their endorsements of Hillary Clinton.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has almost single-handedly defended the state’s first-in-the-nation status for decades, seemed caught off guard by Priebus’ comments yesterday. But he seemed confident that New Hampshire would survive this latest threat.

“We’ve been through this many times in the past,” Gardner said. “I’ve always said that (the primary) will never be taken away from us externally. It’s only if some day if the people of New Hampshire don’t have the will to want this that we won’t have it anymore. And they’ve had that will for 100 years, and I suspect they’ll always have the will to keep it.”

The New Hampshire primary is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 9.

Dan is NHPR's news director.

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