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At the DNC, Mixed Feelings on New Hampshire's First-in-the-Nation Status

Casey McDermott, NHPR

Ask around long enough on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and you’ll find plenty of critiques about New Hampshire’s place in the presidential nominating contest.

“It makes no sense that it is a decider for so many candidates when it really isn’t reflective of the population in the rest of the states,” said one delegate from Texas.

“You know, I think it sets the pace a little badly and it stretches the whole primary system,” another, from American Samoa, said.

“Conceptually, I think it’s a good idea,” said another delegate from Alabama. “I don’t necessarily think that in this day and age tradition is indicative of the pulse of America, so I think the opportunity for other states to share in that process – the exploration of how to do that and how other states can benefit from being the first presidential primary of the election season, I think is reasonable.”

Laurie Dework, from Tennessee, said she’d like to reform not just New Hampshire’s place but the primary process overall.

“I really feel like I would much rather the whole process be shorter. I don’t know that we need to have it spread out so much and give everyone an individual day so much as to have a series of publicly funded debates, encourage the candidates to have some town hall meetings within some various areas, and then have a single day when we all cast our primary votes or do the caucus, whatever the state has chosen to go with,” she said.

But there were also plenty of people – far and wide – who saw the value in letting this little state do some of the vetting for the rest of the nation.

Corey Flowers, a delegate from West Virginia, said he looks to Iowa and New Hampshire “to show us how politics should be performed on a local level.”

“New Hampshire and West Virginia have a lot of the same issues – with rural areas, with poverty, with blue-collar workers, and so we appreciate the role New Hampshire has played all these years. I hope it continues,” he said.

Cara Robbin, from Los Angeles, sometimes wishes her home state of California didn’t have to wait quite so long while other states like New Hampshire vote months earlier – but otherwise, she didn’t have any qualms, either.

“I don’t mind it at all. It’s kind of traditional. I know a lot of people get anxious they don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “If you don’t win that primary it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win the election.”

Cliff Moon, a delegate from North Carolina and an incoming DNC member, says he’s not sure that New Hampshire should always go first – but he says the nominating process should never lose out on the up-close interaction the New Hampshire primary provides.

“It’s that feel that you get from – it’s like you and I talking,” Moon said. “Whatever you think of me, you’ve gotten more of it here than you’d ever get off of that television screen. And it’s so important that our leaders sit in those living rooms sometime in a campaign.”

In any case, by now, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley is plenty used to hearing both sides of the debate about the primary's place ahead of every other state except Iowa.

“You know I think it’s sort of like, would we love to have the Statue of Liberty, would we love to have the Grand Canyon. Each state has their thing. And the New Hampshire primary is it,” Buckley said. “We’ve invited folks over the years: Come and be part of it. I tell folks: The special thing about New Hampshire, at our town hall meetings, we don’t check your ID.”

So until anything changes, Buckley says the people who feel like they might be missing out could at the very least play political tourist and experience the primary in person for themselves.

Casey is a Senior News Editor for NHPR. You can contact her with questions or feedback at
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