The N.H. Primary: How & Why This Political Institution Is Changing

Dec 2, 2019

Democratic Rep. Marjorie Smith holds a house party for Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett
Credit Stranglehold Team of NHPR

We check in on how Granite State voters have experienced the N.H. primary season thus far and why many say this political institution is changing.  We talk with the producers of NHPR's new podcast Stranglehold, an investigation into the power and people behind the primary, about how the house-party tradition is holding up against larger candidate events & selfie lines.

GUESTS:

  • Lauren Chooljian - Politics & Policy Reporter for NHPR's State of Democracy project. She is also co-host of NHPR's new podcast Stranglehold, an investigation into the power and people behind the New Hampshire primary.
  • James Pindell -  Political reporter for The Boston Globe
  • Jack Rodolico - Senior Producer/Reporter, Podcasts & Special Projects.  He is also co-host of NHPR's podcast Stranglehold

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Peter Biello:
From New Hampshire Public Radio. I'm Peter Biello in for Laura Knoy. And this is The Exchange.

Peter Biello:
Without the New Hampshire primary, what is New Hampshire? That is one of the many thought provoking questions in the new NHPR podcast Stranglehold, in which some of my colleagues explore how New Hampshire got its hands on that coveted First in the Nation primary spot. It's a series that takes a look back at our state's beloved political tradition. And it also raises questions about the viability of the New Hampshire primary, both for New Hampshire and for the nation. Today, we will spend the full hour exploring these questions. We'll talk to co-hosts Jack Rodolico and Lauren Chooljian about where the idea for the show came from. We'll get their response to some of the criticism they received. And we'll listen to a portion of one of the latest episodes. Later in the hour, we'll hear from Boston Globe reporter James Pindell. He's been joining us by Skype. And he's been covering the New Hampshire primary for many years and reporting on the changing dynamics of the primary. And we want to hear from you. Is the New Hampshire primary fading? Is it alive and well? And how important is it to you that New Hampshire remain first in the nation? Call now. The number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Peter Biello:
And Jack and Lauren are with me in the studio now. Welcome. Thanks for being here.

Lauren Chooljian:
Good morning, Peter.

Peter Biello:
So for those who haven't listened to Stranglehold yet, Lauren, what's the general premise of the show?

What have people been doing if they haven't been listening to Strangle? Just joking. No judgment. So what do we do in this Stranglehold? So the idea is that we're looking at the New Hampshire primary as an institution. Right. We got a lot of questions. My colleague Casey Akter did this awesome survey of New Hampshire voters long before we started the podcast. And this is New Hampshire voters. And one of the biggest questions they asked is, why are we first?

Lauren Chooljian:
And so we figure, OK, if people here don't know why we're first, that's a good thing to examine. But we wanted to do a lot more than just give the background of why we're first. We wanted to take a step back and look at our relationship as a media organization. We want to look at the voter's relationship. We want to look at the institution's relationship with the larger way that we elect presidents and basically the amount of power that New Hampshire has amassed because of our special spot. This first in the nation primary spot that gives us a lot of extra attention, a lot of extra media attention. A lot of extra, you know, closeness with people running for president. So we wanted to kind of take a step back and give the history, of course, but also give listeners a chance to decide for themselves, you know, what is this thing relevant? Is it as powerful and should it be first in the nation?

Peter Biello:
So, Jack, tell us a little bit about the first few episodes. We'll hear one of more recent episodes in just a couple of minutes. But what about the first few? What what were the folk? What was the focus of those?

Jack Rodolico:
The first five episodes take you through sort of an arc of how we got to where we are today and we take it on from different approaches. So the first episode is all about the Secretary of State. He's a guy who's been in office since the mid 70s, who has been, you know, sort of labeled as the guardian of the New Hampshire primary.

Jack Rodolico:
We go back in the second episode, we look at the campaign of Jimmy Carter and how that sort of set the mold for what we think of as a successful win in the New Hampshire primary and how that catapults you to the White House.

Jack Rodolico:
And we have another episode that explores, you know, this sort of national media sort of complicated relationship with the New Hampshire primary, how they're often sort of trotting out a story every four years about this, these quaint little towns that all vote at 100 percent participation, you know. I mean, I think some of us in New Hampshire think of the primary that way. It's not really totally accurate all the time. And then we sort of look at the changing identity of politics in the country and how that is challenging the primary guardians in ways that they have never had to deal with before.

Jack Rodolico:
You know, we're not having - it used to be that, you know, Secretary of State would have a staring competition with the Democratic National Committee about when to put the date on a calendar or something like that, or another state would say, hey, we want to go first. And the political parties in the state would say no way. And they'd sort of blackmail the presidential candidates into supporting the primary. Today. When you have, you know, like, you know, oh,.

Lauren Chooljian:
It's a whole different ballgame,.

Jack Rodolico:
It's a whole different ballgame when you got CNN essentially acting as a first primary because they are setting the parameters for who gets on the debate stage. There, you know, so we're focusing on that. We're focusing on the identity there, the, you know, racial identity in New Hampshire as opposed to the rest of the country. And the real adjustment questions about, well, if New Hampshire doesn't really represent if doesn't totally look like the country, you know, why is it first why is it first?

Peter Biello:
Indeed, we're gonna be talking a lot about that. But before we get into the clip, I do want to ask you about some of the pushback that the show has received. I mean, even before it was dropped.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yeah.

Peter Biello:
Yeah.

Peter Biello:
There were there was there was criticism about the focus and why, and how dare NHPR take on the primary and criticize it? Because there are a lot of people who rely on it and it's to full. Based on the idea of power, I want to hear from both of you on this, maybe I'll start with you, Jack. The idea of power, too much of a focus in Stranglehold.

Jack Rodolico:
I would recommend people go to the Union Leader and read the editorial. Look it up. I had a wonderful headline that included the words...

Lauren Chooljian:
Hype or tripe.

Jack Rodolico:
Go read that, make your own opinion. But I think that that editorial really embodies the pushback we were expecting from this from this podcast, because we knew that we were sort of looking at a sacred cow and saying we're just going to ask questions about it. People don't usually do that. And I would also say that people who are not politicos, you know, the listeners who have listened this, we haven't heard that pushback from them, from people in New Hampshire or elsewhere. They're saying, oh, this is interesting. I didn't know this. Like it seems like a legitimate piece of journalism.

Lauren Chooljian:
The way I see it is if there is a case where we have a factual error, of course we would fix it.

Jack Rodolico:
Right.

Lauren Chooljian:
But the idea that we're being too critical or focusing too much on one aspect versus another or were, you know, asking questions that we shouldn't be asking. What I would say to that is that I understand where some people are coming from. In the sense that I understand that the New Hampshire primary is their life. And I understand that their livelihood is dependent on this thing.

Lauren Chooljian:
But to me, as a journalist, it's my responsibility to take a step back and look at this thing and ask questions about it and look it in the larger context of where politics are, where they're going, where they've been. And what our goal was, was to provide people kind of a backdrop, to give them a sense. I mean, the Stranglehold title is evocative because we wanted people to listen and determine for themselves, you know, is was will there be a stranglehold? What's the state's relationship to this thing and how do I, the listener, feel about it? And to that end, I think we've done an excellent job.

Peter Biello:
We've got a longish clip from one of the recent episodes.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yes.

Peter Biello:
Lauren, can you set us up a little bit about what we're about to hear?

Yes. So this is Episode 8. So as Jack was saying, the first five episodes were kind of like a good primer and then six and beyond through the primary. You're gonna be we're taking you to the trail, but we're not necessarily focusing on who's up, who's down as far as the Democratic primary or the Republican candidates that are running against President Trump. Well, we're trying to do is show some of the mythology that we've talked about and how it kind of manifests itself today or doesn't. And so this episode actually came to us from a listener who also so happens to be a state representative, Marjorie Smith. And she had heard our sixth episode about bird dogging, which is this thing that's kind of evolved in many political events, not just here, but especially here, where activists or other very engaged citizens will practice their questions ahead of time and try to get candidates on the spot about something very specific. And it's, you know, very different from what we imagine that you wake up, you have this big question about this issue that's affecting your grandparent, parent, your child, and you get to talk to a presidential candidate about it.

Lauren Chooljian:
So instead, Marjorie called us and was saying that she's decided that she was going to do sort of like an act of protest in this changing world of the primary, where she feels like as a very special part of the New Hampshire primary is dying out. This idea that you can have these intimate, unique conversations one on one with the presence or candidate in someone's home.

Lauren Chooljian:
So she decided that she was going to invite us to a house party for Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. And her concern, again, like I say, is that like this idea, this quintessential New Hampshire primary experience is dying out and instead are being replaced by big rallies or by social media, by the debates that Jack was talking about, by, you know, the Democratic National Committee setting these thresholds that involve national polling, national fundraising. And she worries that things like selfie lines where people wait for hours to get a picture with on their smartphone with the candidate, she's worried that those experiences are replacing these authentic things she loves so much.

Marjorie Smith:
Where's the substance? Where's the substance?

Lauren Chooljian:
A lot of people wait in that line. I know.

Marjorie Smith:
I know. So we're obviously has meaning. Yes, but it's just the meaning that. Is central to deciding who should be the president, the United States.

Lauren Chooljian:
So this is really why Margery invited us over to this House party for Michael Bennett. It's not really about Michael Bennett at all. It's about seeing the House party and showing us why this style of campaigning is better for democracy than a selfie line.

Marjorie Smith:
I should probably see what's happening with that.

Lauren Chooljian:
People start kind of slowly filing into her house and Marjorie immediately switches into host mode. You can tell she's done this a few times.

Marjorie Smith:
Help yourself because the butler is not available.

Jason Moon:
So people start to come in. I don't know, maybe 40, maybe more. The folks are mostly older. There's a handful who are current or former local politicians.

Jason Moon:
There's some chit chat. There's some snacking. And then eventually, Marjorie ushers everyone upstairs to a room where Bennet is gonna speak.

Marjorie Smith:
You're probably wondering why I brought you all together and I brought you all together for really a great reason. An old ham for a reason. And that is, I am trying hard to keep alive. What makes the Hampshire the perfect breeding ground for presidential candidates?

Marjorie Smith:
Unfortunately, I found a live one.

Lauren Chooljian:
So Michael Bennet gets up, starts to do his stump speech thing.

Michael Bennet:
Extremely grateful to have the chance. A jury to hear all of you. And in this beautiful place, what an incredible house and what an amazing setting.

Lauren Chooljian:
And while Bennett is talking, I noticed Marjorie. She kind of stands behind him a little bit hovering and she's watching the crowd very intently. And at first, I could really tell if she's just trying to, you know, assess the room, soak in the moment for herself or more that she's trying to make sure everyone is paying attention and trying to get from their faces what they're getting out of it.

Crowd:
So I have a couple a couple of questions. And the answers for you can be yes or no.

Crowd:
Actually, I have a question on behalf of my 14 year old who's not able to join us in every room. He's got a video so we can show her your reply. She's home doing homework.

Crowd:
Could you be more broad about how you really can generate the revenue to do the things that need to be done in this? That's a great question. So, you know for sure.

Crowd:
It's heart breaking. Well, I bet that's what I feel like. We're leaving to our children and our grandchildren. A world of --.

Michael Bennet:
Yeah, that the last point I totally agree with.

Jason Moon:
And I think this is is really what Marjorie wanted us to see the question and answer period where, you know, regular people were able to ask questions about whatever they wanted. There were real back and forth, by my count. Bennett took eleven questions and stayed well beyond the point with which his staff wanted him to leave.

Lauren Chooljian:
And some of the questions that people asked there were about the exact thing we were talking about with Marjorie. The power of the primary.

Crowd:
I'm sorry. So this is this is what I want to say. People in New Hampshire have a big responsibility. And people in New Hampshire are confused about what to do with that responsibility.

Crowd:
I know so few people who have their candidate and they're committed, but I know many more, as I said, are confused.

Crowd:
So how are you going to win New Hampshire? How much time will you spend?

Michael Bennet:
I'm going to spend a lot of time here and there. And the way I'm in it, when it is by being in the living room, at the living room, it's the living room after literally answering every question that Margorie will let me answer. Cutting me off when I've gone on too long. I mean, I that's what I'm going to do. That's how I'm going to do it.

Jason Moon:
And so clearly, Bennett is Team Marjorie when it comes to how the primary is supposed to happen. But I think we should say here that living rooms are basically Bennett's only choice at this point because he's polling very, very low.

Lauren Chooljian:
He is really trying to make any inroads he can. As far as name I.D. and it's November.

Jason Moon:
So it could be principal or it could just be the realities of the situation.

Michael Bennet:
I'm sad To say this. But if I don't leave, I'm going to miss my flight and then we'll miss my dental appointment in the morning. Which, you know, that won't be good.

Lauren Chooljian:
So after Bennett finishes. People are saying get their coats and say their goodbyes to Marjorie.

Michael Bennet:
Thank you very much.

Crowd:
Thank you. It was delightful. Thank you. He's a hot tomato.

Marjorie Smith:
Well, you could say that. I mean, I think he I don't know what a hot tomato means.

Crowd:
It means he's really good. I like him a lot. And I thank you for putting this together.

Lauren Chooljian:
Anyway, after most people have left, Marjorie looks at us and she says:

Marjorie Smith:
So I rest my case.

Lauren Chooljian:
You rest your case.

Marjorie Smith:
I rest my case.

Marjorie Smith:
What you saw tonight was unstaged, unprogrammed, no planted questions. A group of thoughtful, concerned New Hampshire voters who answered questions and listened and they gained. Energy. And so did he.

Lauren Chooljian:
And, you know, there is some truth to what she's saying. There was no bird dogging. Voters did get to have exchanges with the candidate. And, you know, afterwards, Michael Bennet told us that it did stick with him. So you could see what Marjorie was talking about.

Jason Moon:
But we should also say that Marjorie gets how this will sound.

Marjorie Smith:
It's stuffy and it's old fashioned and it's naive. And I understand all of that.

Jason Moon:
But she really also believes that this way of campaigning is better for all of us.

Lauren Chooljian:
Marjorie uses this metaphor that I've been thinking about a lot, which is that the New Hampshire primary used to be like shows that wanted to get on Broadway, but had to go to smaller places first to make sure that they were good enough for Broadway. And the idea there is that candidates would come here to learn and grow and kind of figure things out. They'd pick up things from voters. Their character would get shaped by the experience. And then by the end, only the best shows would make it to Broadway.

Marjorie Smith:
It is the only way that we can open up the possibility to people who don't arrive fully formed with a retinue of people who will tell them what color shirts to wear and what to say and who to talk to and who not to talk to.

Marjorie Smith:
And don't whisper in there and say that person's important. That person we don't know. Don't worry. No, don't bother with them.

Marjorie Smith:
And that's. What happens... Happened in the New Hampshire primary, and that is changing.

Lauren Chooljian:
So that's one vision of how the primary should be done. Small conversations, a small state between voters and candidates. A training ground. But, you know, we also wanted to see a different perspective. We want to talk to somebody who sees that the primary is changing, but thinks it's a good thing.

Jason Moon:
Right. So something like the opposite of a house party.

Lauren Chooljian:
With a long selfie line.

Lauren Chooljian:
So if house parties represent one style of the New Hampshire primary, perhaps the opposite experience is the rally. One person who's been holding a lot of rallies lately is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. And we went to a recent rally of hers at a high school in Exeter, New Hampshire, about 20 minutes or so from Artery's House.

Lauren Chooljian:
And people are already lining up inside the high school, all through the hallways to get in. In fact, we should walk down, see along the lines.

Jason Moon:
There's Check-In tables, there's vendors selling stuff. It's kind of like the difference between like going to small parties, your friends house versus like going to the club club.

Lauren Chooljian:
I haven't been to many clubs, Jason, but.

Jason Moon:
I've never been to a club either.

Lauren Chooljian:
There are there are lines outside them that I've driven by....

Jason Moon:
From The movies, from the movies.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yeah All right.

Jason Moon:
But like the House Party with Marjorie, we wanted some tour guides to to help us experience this event, to see it through their eyes.

Crowd:
Nice to meet you.

Lauren Chooljian:
So we meet our guides in the lobby of this high school where Warren is giving her speech. Their names are Debra Altschiller and Gaby Grossman. And they're both Democrats. They're also both state reps like Marjorie, but they're younger and haven't been around as long as she has. So we fill them in on the experience we had at Margery's House party and how Marjorie thinks the New Hampshire primary is dying.

Jason Moon:
Well, one of the questions we have is obviously we were at the House party with Marjorie. Like that sense of community was really obvious and people were really close and it was very intimate in her house, in her hall. Yeah. Do you feel you can achieve as a similar kind of community in a larger venue like those for you had lines of people.

Absolutely. Oh, my goodness. How many people like if we went out right now between the two of us, we would know like to catch two thirds of the people that are in line because this is our home. This I'm going to run into half of these people at Market Basket after this, actually. You know, and then we're going to pick up our dry-cleaning next to each other and be like, oh, I just saw you at the thing.

Lauren Chooljian:
So from then on, Debra and Gaby make it their point to show us how an event like this can still be just as effective as a house party like Margorgies.

Jason Moon:
Right. And to make their point, they lead us into this big cafeteria where this huge crowd is waiting for Warren. And Debra starts kind of leading us into the crowd to introduce us to all the people she know.

Lauren Chooljian:
Like she literally was like squeezing us through this massive crowd of like 700 people just to meet like three people.

Lauren Chooljian:
Then me, the other person.

Debra Altschiller:
Like right now, here's one person that I sing karaoke with. Yeah, we do karaoke every night. Where do you do karaoke? The big Planned Parenthood karaoke event. It's big deal.

Lauren Chooljian:
And we're not even done with the karaoke discussion. And then Debra starts kind of dragging us over to talk to another have on the way say, oh, my God, your neighbor, your neighbor, so much more.

Lauren Chooljian:
So they eventually lead us up to the front row where they're going to be sitting for this speech. And then they leave because they are going to go have a chat with senator one of the event. Basically, what they told us is this was their opportunity to pitch her on issues that mean a lot to them, that they hope that she considers if her campaign continues. And that was also kind of a moment for me where I realized that there is a big similarity between the House party and the rally, and that is the political elite around here. They will continue to have access to these candidates no matter what form the primary takes.

Lauren Chooljian:
Then eventually, Debra and Gaby come back to their seats and Senator Warren comes out to the tune of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5.

Jason Moon:
So Warren gives her standard stump speech and then it's time for questions. And the Warren campaign uses a different system than most campaigns to do this. They have a system of raffle tickets to choose who gets to ask questions at their event rather than raising your hand. And Gaby, one of our tour guides is actually the person who pulls the tickets out. So she hops up onstage with Senator Warren.

Elizabeth Warren:
You're ready. Oh, look at your cute pass. You're going to hold the basket. Oh, my goodness. Oh, here we go. Three lucky tickets.

Gaby Grossman:
Do we have someone? Hi. Hi.

Crowd:
Why did you just say.

Elizabeth Warren:
Oh, wait. Tell me your name.

Crowd:
I'm Natalie.

Elizabeth Warren:
Hi, Natalie. Hey, Natalie. Would you be insulted if I asked how old you are?

Crowd:
No, I'm ten.

Elizabeth Warren:
Woo! All right, Natalie. Ten. And ready to do a little democracy at my kind of scale. OK.

Crowd:
Why did you decide to run for to become president?

Lauren Chooljian:
Oh, by the way, it just so happens that Gaby apparently knows this girl of the three tickets you picked out of this bucket. This is a girl she knows. So after Warren's stump speech and three questions, there is, of course, the selfie line. And it's one of those things that Marjorie bemoaned to us is a sign of the end of the primary.

Gaby Grossman:
Thank you, everyone, for coming.

Gaby Grossman:
And the photo line for yourself, fees will start right over here. And folks with kids, you can come to the front of the line.

Lauren Chooljian:
Perhaps not surprisingly, Debra tells us she has a very different take on this. She sees the selfie line as a long list of issues, personal issues that people get a chance to present. One on one to somebody running for president.

Jason Moon:
So we wanted to talk to some people waiting for selfies about this experience. So near the back of the line, we met a nice woman named Gail Rhodes.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yes. Why do you want to wait this long line?

Crowd:
Because I think she deserves to be thanked for what she's doing, getting out here as every candidate does. I shook Corey. I stood in line to shake Cory Booker's hand just because I wanted to meet him one to one. So it's not about his eyes. I want to look in their eyes.

Lauren Chooljian:
What will you see?

Crowd:
Well, hopefully their soul.

Lauren Chooljian:
Do You see mine. What did it look like?

Crowd:
Very nice aura.

Lauren Chooljian:
Thank you so much.

Jason Moon:
Near the front of the line. We met Kate Canney and Aaron Beseigio.

Crowd:
We're trying to figure out a way you say. It's very stressful.

Lauren Chooljian:
Well, let's brainstorm. So what are your ideas going right now?

Crowd:
It's nice to meet you. Thank you.

Lauren Chooljian:
That sounds very positive.

Crowd:
Thank you for being in the fight. I'm rooting for you! I don't know.

Jason Moon:
So clearly there's a wide spectrum of the types of expectations, expectations that experiences have for what's going to happen during the selfie moment.

Lauren Chooljian:
So then we decided to check back in before we left with Debra. Just one last time. And like Marjorie, she basically says to us, I rest my case. Her case, though, is that large events like this can really create community. It's a thing that can bring people together and energize people.

Debra Altschiller:
I mean, it's electric. It's electric. And we are we are that concentrated. Boiled down cider, that's about to turn into syrup. You know, like a there's no more there's no more true flavor than when you like boiled all the rest of it out and you're just about to get that awesome apple cider syrup to put on ice cream. Like that's what is happening in this room right here to make apple cider syrup.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yeah. Don't you never heard of that? Never.

Debra Altschiller:
Don't get honey crisp apple cider.

Jason Moon:
So, Lauren. Yes. We saw two very different versions of the primary that's playing out right now in New Hampshire with two very different takes on what that means for the state.

Jason Moon:
What have we learned?

Lauren Chooljian:
That even in the Democratic Party, among people who have similar goals, who all want the same outcome from the 2020 election? There are very differing views on the best way to pick a candidate.

Jason Moon:
But as you pointed out earlier, one thing that is the same is that both Marjorie and Debra and Gaby, they all have access. They're all in the front row, whether it's the house party or the rally.

Lauren Chooljian:
Oh, yeah. And as long as the candidates keep coming to New Hampshire, I doubt that changes.

Peter Biello:
That was a portion of a recent episode of Stranglehold called Alive and Dying. NHPR's Jason Moon was featured there as well. If you're just tuning in. Stranglehold is NHPR's podcast looking at the history of and powerbrokers behind New Hampshire's first in the nation primary election. You can find all the episodes at Stranglehold podcast dot com.

Peter Biello:
We are going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we gonna continue our discussion about the history and future of the New Hampshire primary. And we want to hear from you. How have you seen the primary change over the years? How have candidates changed in response to a changing media climate? And have you held house parties for years or just once or twice? If so, how did it go and how have they changed? We'll talk more after a break with an h.p.'s Lauren Chooljian and Jack Rodolico. Also, James Pindell of The Boston Globe will join us. Give us a call.

Peter Biello:
Tomorrow on The Exchange Where they stand, our 2020 primary series continues with a look at the candidates plans for higher education. We'll examine the similarities and differences, as well as how the Trump administration has approached these issues. You can send your questions or comments to exchange at NHP. And tune in tomorrow morning live at 9:00. Right now, we're talking about the institution of the first in the nation primary, its guardians, its value and its evolution. What do you make of the tradition of the primary? Is this the best way to sort through a field of candidates of any size? But in particular, a field of candidates as large as the one on the Democratic side this year? Let us know. Our number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Our guests are NHPR's Lauren Chooljian and NHPR's Jack Rodolico, co-hosts of the podcast Stranglehold. And on the line with us now as well from by Skype is James Pindell, Boston Globe political reporter. Hey, James.

James Pindell:
Hey, how are you?

Peter Biello:
Doing well, thank you very much. I want to bring listeners into the conversation as soon as possible right now and and talk to Doug from Haverhill. Doug, thank you very much for calling. What's on your mind?

Caller:
Hi. Nice to be on the show.

Caller:
You know, I've been a long time listener, and I have to say I've been very disappointed with NHPR over this series. I mean, yes, some of the reporting is fine, but do you have to call it stranglehold?

Caller:
Why do you feel we need to attack such a great institution? And my real question is, do you really think that if there was no way it wasn't New Hampshire primary, that the prices will be better for some other state would do it better? I mean, I just don't think there's any evidence for that. And I also think you've taken some cheap shots against our Secretary of State, Bill Gardner, a friend of mine. I've known him for a long time as a defender of the primary.

Caller:
But, you know, you miss a lot of other good things that come out of the secretary of state's office. Bill was one of the people that spoke up after the push for a ban in all the states.

Caller:
And the federal government was pushing computerized voting. And Bill said, no, no, no, we need paper ballots. Well, that's certainly been proven true.

Peter Biello:
Well, Doug, let me let me put the many questions to to Lauren and Jack who who wrote the series. First question, Doug asked why you have to call it stranglehold?

Lauren Chooljian:
Yes. Doug, thank you for calling. I want to take all those questions very seriously. And as I said earlier, I totally appreciate the feedback. Stranglehold was an evocative title about this tight grip that New Hampshire has had on this first spot. And like I said to Peter and Jack earlier, this was kind of our way to get people to engage with this idea of New Hampshire's relationship with this thing and to decide for themselves if there was and if there should be such a date, like a tight relationship between New Hampshire and the way that we pick presidents.

Peter Biello:
Definitely, definitely evocative. What what what maybe Doug was asking or challenging is whether or not it's a fair description. Is stranglehold a fair description of what's happening?

Lauren Chooljian:
I think that it is a fair description as far as the entire history. I don't think that you can look at one day in the primary history and be like, zap, that's a stranglehold. I think the idea that we're trying to convey is that there is a history of this thing and it is sometimes involved quite aggressive battles to stay first. And so that's why I hope that people, when they're making their assessments of this thing, is to listen to the entirety of the project. And I just want to say his is concern. Doug said that we need to attack the first the nation primary. I do not feel that we've been attacking it. I think that we've been critical. I think we've been holding certain figures in it accountable. But it is not our job to say yes or no. We should be first. We should not be first. It's not our job to say the best possible situation for electing presidents. It is our job to present the facts of this case. Right, to look at this thing in a critical way and give it to the listener, to the voters of New Hampshire, to people across the country, and let them decide. Do they like the way we elect presidents or don't they?

Peter Biello:
And Doug also was was not happy with the way you've handled coverage of Bill Gardner. So I wanted to ask you, Jack, since you had multiple encounters with the Secretary of State. What do you make of Doug's comments about the reporting on Bill Gardner specifically?

Jack Rodolico:
I mean, I go back to something that Lawrence said earlier, that if anybody has a factual if there is a fact that we got wrong, bring that specific point to us. But nobody has done that. And what we are left with is people who Gardner has ardent supporters. He is absolutely beloved by a number of people. So it doesn't surprise me that when we are doing our job as reporters, we're just taking a critical look at a powerful institution and a politician who has been re-elected to office 22 times since the 1970s. He's got his supporters and I and God, God bless him for that. I mean, like, you know, he's he's a he's a really powerful politician in that sense. But we're just doing our jobs. I mean, like we're looking at a politician who, you know, has gained prominence as the defender of the primary. That's not. How he would describe himself. But I.

Jack Rodolico:
I get a little flabbergasted sometimes...,.

Lauren Chooljian:
I just would dispute, I really appreciate people. I mean, I don't want to dismiss Doug at all, but I would just dispute the characterization as cheap shots because I think that we try so hard to triple check everything we put into this podcast. We've tried to engage with Gardner on multiple occasions. Know we're gonna get into that a little bit later in this show. And and we did our darnedest and we made sure to do our darndest because that's the job. And so I know it's hard to hear some of that stuff, you know, especially like I said before, like if the New Hampshire primary is your life, of course, you only want to, you know, hear the great, wonderful things that it has done for people. And we include some of those things as well.

Jack Rodolico:
I think it demonstrates how much people care about this institution, how is how important it is to them that by nature of asking questions about it, that is seen as provocative. I agree. That is seen as controversial, because that is all we are doing. We are asking questions about it, about an institution that is deemed sacred and has done a lot for the state. That doesn't mean we hate it and it doesn't mean that we want to undercut it. We're just asking questions.

Peter Biello:
NHPR's Jack Rodolico, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate it. Lauren Chooljian is going to stick around with us. And James Pindell of The Boston Globe, political political reporter for The Boston Globe.

Been so patient hanging around Jake. James, you're still there, right?

I am.

Oh, thank God. All right. We really want to talk to you about this because you have a long personal history with the primary. Can you give us a little bit of a sense of when you first got interested in the primary and when you started covering it?

James Pindell:
Oh, goodness..

Lauren Chooljian:
Buckle up!

James Pindell:
I'll be very brief, though.

James Pindell:
I mean, yes, in high school, I was in a small town in Indiana, and I fell in love with the story of the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses. And that's basically what I've done with my life since I went to college in Des Moines because of the Iowa caucuses. I took a job with a startup in New Hampshire that I didn't think I was going to get a paycheck from. I did. And I didn't know a soul in the state. But I love the idea of how could I ever turn down the opportunity to cover the New Hampshire primary. That was 20 years ago. And I'm in my sixth presidential primary season. It is my life. I love it deeply as much as the defenders of the New Hampshire primary. And I will say this. I was not really involved in this project.

James Pindell:
Lauren... And I don't want to give it too much sausage. Obviously, we talked about this long before you launched the series. Right. So my concerns and I this is...

James Pindell:
Stranglehold is the most important project on New Hampshire politics I have seen in my career. You must listen to it. If anything else, you don't have to agree with it. The idea is, will it make you think it? Absolutely. As we've seen, it comes up in conversation with sources almost weekly, if not daily. This podcast in terms of how is making people think. And at a time when it's New Hampshire is actually in a position of strength. You know, this is coming from a place from inside the state. When I talk about it, it's coming from a place of a person who deeply loves the institution, not critical of it.

James Pindell:
But there's no state right now that's even threatening us. But there are some existential threats going on. And it's the very moment when we should be asking ourselves, wait, what is this primary? What values do we deem the most important about this primary? And are we losing some of those things just on pure process without us actually knowing or noticing until it's too late?

Peter Biello:
How would you answer that question? What? What, if anything, are we losing with all the many things that are changing, including the changing media environment, is there anything that the primary is lacking now that it that it used to have?

James Pindell:
Yes. In some sense, the primary always changes. And when I say this and I get I don't I talk too long about this because I want to get other callers. We are not what I'm not talking about are specific candidates. That's not we're talking about we're talking about the climate. We're not talking about the weather today. And I'm not talking about weather. Winning the New Hampshire primary matters. It probably in 2020. It is mattered if party matters more now than it probably has in a lot of previous cycles. But can you explain why?

Peter Biello:
Because there's so many people who say the debates are really replacing it in some way by by having all these different thresholds for a national audience.

James Pindell:
So my point was, is that winning the New Hampshire primary on February 11th, 2020 matters a tremendous amount. My concern has been the process on how we get there. You know, typically the year leading up has been why New Hampshire has been so important over the years. It's the chance to get a. The tires on the kid. You know, these folks who run for president. They are senators. They are governors. They are people who've been very successful in business and they run around in rarefied Aires. Right. The people they talk to at night, the cocktail parties they go to, they are not regular people. So the idea is the romantic idea about Iowa and New Hampshire is that, you know, for maybe 20 days over the course of the year, they come to these states, you know, in terms of the actual days you're visiting. Amy Klobuchar is coming back, I think, later this week. That's her 19th visit, for example. You know, for a brief period of time, they have to hang out with regular people before they make decisions on who wins and loses in the tax code and who to send off to war. That's the romantic notion of this primary. It's why you can come in from nowhere in the marketplace about ideas.

James Pindell:
I got a good idea that works. But what concerns you at this time is that look at who are frontrunners are other than Pete Buttigieg kind of came out of nowhere. We have three people Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden. Again, this not about candidacies, about structure who are already well-known and already are well identified national figures who come into the process and they're rewarded because of the incentives in the system to do rallies for such as house parties. I love this episode, by the way, because it perfectly gets at what may be lost. It's not the sense of community. It's a sense of how we ask questions and how we size up candidates in the past. He used to come to the state you a big dinner at a county Democratic county Republican thing. One person liked what you had to say. They said, come to my house on bite my neighbors, people around. Anyone can show up. Then from there, you know, maybe they convince a few more people there's a few more house parties and then it grows organically from, you know what, 75 person house party to a thousand person rally because that kid, it's catching on for other candidates. It doesn't catch on.

Peter Biello:
Well, James, if you give me...

Lauren Chooljian:
Well, I just was going to say that this this is kind of exactly why I wanted to have all the episodes that we to play today. This is why I want to play alive and dying, because I think it encapsulates this kind of strange moment that we're in where this thing is not dead. It's obviously not dead. I mean, there are candidates coming by and running. This week is a great example. There are candidates coming almost every day. I feel like. And and so we're still relevant, but we're in this kind of shape shifting moment where you can see that there are things that James talking about. The House party is a great example where the impact of that is changing and that is because of the forces that are larger than just New Hampshire.

James Pindell:
Let me tell you one quick story, and maybe this is more to the point. One thing is sticking in my mind is this scene from late June and the Buffalo News sends a reporter to cover Kirsten Gillibrand, who's now dropped out of the campaign. There's a period of where all these reporters doing what's going on with this New York senator. Why is she not catching on? She is showing up. She's doing what you're supposed to do in Iowa, New Hampshire. She's connecting. She's answering questions in this. Buffalo News reporter follows her round in Claremont in there. It watches her interact with this woman. And in so, you know, Chemical Wishart moves on to the next person. It says it's a it's an affair in the town square. And the reporter walks up to her and says, OK. So you met Amy Klobuchar? Yes, I did. So she showed up. Yes. That's amazing. New Hampshire is awesome. Great. Did you like what she had to say? Did you agree with her? Disagree with her? Oh, no, I agree with her on absolutely everything. So you agree with her on everything? She's showing up. She shook your hand. She asked for your vote. Who do you like? And she said the woman said, well, I mean, I listen to this national podcast with good adjudge. I think he's great.

James Pindell:
Think about that. Yeah. In New Hampshire.

Peter Biello:
The national media can get here a lot more easily than it could maybe 20 years ago.

Lauren Chooljian:
And everywhere.

Peter Biello:
Yeah. Well, we're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about these very questions with you, James and Lauren.

Peter Biello:
And we'll also hear from listeners, I hope Scott on Facebook said, I've lived in New Hampshire all my life. I pay attention to politics. I think the first in the nation primary should either rotate around the country or be a bigger state that is representative of the country's demographics. Scott, that's a comment we've heard before. And we'll talk a little bit more about those issues after a break. This is The Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.

Peter Biello:
This is The Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello, and we're speaking today about New Hampshire's first in the nation primary with an h.p.'s Lauren Chooljian, co-host of the NHPR podcast Stranglehold. And with us for this part of the program is Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell. Listeners, we want to know your thoughts on this process. Is there a benefit to New Hampshire residents holding the first primary?

Peter Biello:
What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? Let's go to the phones and talk to Steve in Nottingham. Steve, thank you very much for calling. What's on your mind?

Caller:
Good morning. I'm calling from Snowy Nottingham. Like Groundhog Day shoveling the same snow I shoveled yesterday. The reason I'm calling is. I think you folks have missed the mark. What has happened is that you can actually shape the national agenda through the New Hampshire primaries. Let me give you an example. There's an organization, National Jewish Women's Organization, that sends people, trained people to go to the different house parties and rallies and sit ins so they can ask certain questions, such as how they feel about immigration or other areas of humanitarian concern. They then track the responses of the candidates to this over time. And if you ask certain questions about certain topics, you actually will change the candidate's stump speech. You actually can change the national agenda.

Caller:
So what you do in New Hampshire,.

Peter Biello:
It seems like what you're describing, Steve, is is what was described in one of the earlier episodes of Stranglehold Bird Dogging. Again, listeners, you can check out stranglehold, just list searchfor stranglehold. Wherever you get your podcast. It's free to subscribe. I want to bring in another voice now. Let's talk to Ray Buckley, the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. He's on the line with us now. Ray Buckley, thank you very much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

Ray Buckley:
Good morning.

Peter Biello:
So let me ask you, what's been your experience of this primary season this time around?

Ray Buckley:
Well, I think that what is so unusual versus, you know, this is my 13th presidential primary. And what's so unusual is the sheer number of candidates that we've had to, you know, host and enjoy hearing from. But I don't think that we've ever had. I think last count, we have 17 active candidates still here and here we are in December. This has just been completely mind. The number of people that have already dropped out. But the number of people that are still in.

Lauren Chooljian:
Chairman Buckley, it's Lauren. I'm really glad that you called in. And one thing I want to ask you about was this idea of what kinds of events have more impact in your experience and how, if at all, you've seen that changing. I'm thinking of the episode that we just played, the House party versus the rally. I'd be really curious to hear what you think as far as the changing potency or not of either of those things.

Ray Buckley:
Well, I think what the important thing is to realize that politics is changing just like our culture is. And the way we communicate and work with each other, you know, it wasn't just a few years ago in my memory and ways that, you know, we didn't have the Internet and all of the sort of electronic devices that we have nowadays. So how campaigns operate, how they work and how voters gather information. We certainly learned the power of Facebook through the twenty sixteen election. And so I think that we shouldn't bemoan that the New Hampshire primary is changing just like everything else in our lives.

Ray Buckley:
I do think meeting one on one, the candidates are important, but we're also gleaming information from other sources. I don't think that's a bad thing. And I you know, I think what James said. I don't think that there's going to be a more consequential Hampshire primary than there will be on February 11th. This is going to be a very huge circumstance. And they were talking about that just the other day on the national level. If one of these candidates can break through and win Iowa and New Hampshire on the Democratic side, that person has ever been denied the nomination. So this is a very intense contest going on right now.

Peter Biello:
Ray Buckley, chair of the state Democratic Party, we thank you very much for sharing your insights with us. We really appreciate it. Great. Thank you.

Peter Biello:
Listeners remember, this is The Exchange on NHPR, I'm Peter Biello. We're speaking with any shoppers, Lauren Chooljian and Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell about the history and future of the New Hampshire primary. Give us a call if you have a question or a comment.

Peter Biello:
Steve from Nottingham talked a little bit about how it's possible for questioner's at New Hampshire events to shape the narrative and to help candidates shape their their speeches, maybe even shape their policy ideas. Well, let's assume for a moment that that this could happen elsewhere. I mean, is there. If there were another state that did the first in the nation thing, what would what would be lost by moving it out of New Hampshire? Is there something unique about New Hampshire questioning that happens or is this something that just could happen anywhere?

James Pindell:
Look, New Hampshire's argument for going first. You always have to put it in the context of if you don't like it, well, then, as opposed to what? As opposed to a national primary where you just had television ads and all of America is flyover country. And no one there's no specific campaign. There's really no chance to ask questions if you're going to move it to a bigger state. You can rotate states already. This takes up your premise in the most favorable light. Let's pick another smaller state, maybe more diverse. What's wrong with that? I don't know if there would be anything wrong with that.

James Pindell:
What I do know is that New Hampshire on process works. There's a balance in our American politics is a checks and balances in it. And so in the presidential primary season, it has been that largely the fat cats from New York, California, Florida, Texas will underwrite a lot of these campaigns. Interest groups will demand that these candidates appear at their forums all over the country speaking to their particular issues. New Hampshire's role in the process is that, again, in theory, it allows for the regular person to have these ill organic interactions with candidates. It is to the caller's point, I think over. Over the course of several primaries, you've seen interest groups do that and see the importance of trying to shape the national they're trying to shape the national narrative in these first two states. I'm wondering whether or not that really has the same impact. You know. Bill Clinton, when he ran for president, again polling at 1 percent when you first got in and figured out that it was about the economy, stupid, because you came to New Hampshire, went to Elm Street in Manchester, looked around and saw all the banks that were closing.

James Pindell:
That's where he learned about the campaign. A lot of people say they became better presidents because of this interaction with everyday people. And again, what I am concerned with is that because of the incentives in the system, that's changing. And what do I mean by that? One question I wish we had a chance to ask Ray Buckley, who ran for DNC chair unsuccessfully last time.

Lauren Chooljian:
I know what you're gonna say. Yeah.

James Pindell:
Look, one reason why we have rallies over house parties is because what happens when you go to a rally is that... They want thousands of people to show up. You have to sign in on their iPads or a computer. You have to give them your name. You have to give your email address. They don't care if you actually stay at the rally. Now, they got your e-mail address. And with that e-mail address, they're going to solicit you for a low dollar donations nonstop. All you do is check your e-mail if you don't believe me. And then from that, they use that money to raise money to spend money on television ads, because the incentives to right now are to get on that debate stage. If you're not on that debate stage, you are out. We just saw two candidate drop out yesterday because they're not making a debate stage.

Lauren Chooljian:
And candidates who dropped out over the summer cited that as one of the reasons it just was.

Lauren Chooljian:
It felt like they just couldn't hit that mark.

James Pindell:
And to make the debate. You have to do well in polling and you have to have low dollar donations. And that's increasingly a national conversation. It's not about their organic local team you have in New Hampshire.

Peter Biello:
Let's let's get a call from David in Keene. David, thank you very much for calling. What's on your mind?

Caller:
Hi. He touched on some of what I was thinking, I'm in Keene so to candidates like Andrew Yang, a fan here a lot, and you can actually, well, walk right up and speak to the candidate and potentially and obviously the closer you are to somebody and talking to somebody, the more influence you'd probably have.

Caller:
I mean, potentially. But. And he'd recognize me potentially. He's the president of the United States. And I could, you know, be in a crowd and he'd recognize me. And I'm just Joe, whoever.

Lauren Chooljian:
Just Daniel from Keene.

Caller:
It makes you feel really special now.

Peter Biello:
Well, thank you very much. Well,

Lauren Chooljian:
David from Keene.

Peter Biello:
Yes. Yes. Thank you very much. We really appreciate listener comments like yours. So. So, James, you left off saying that, you know, candidates are hyper focused on meeting the minimum for the debates, especially important in such a loud, large field. What do you think is necessary for those interested in preserving the relevance of the first in the nation primary to happen? What should happen to make sure that New Hampshire doesn't lose ground to to the forces of major media and debate and whatnot?

James Pindell:
I think first off is a step that we have is a recognition that we overall have a problem. We're losing not just the rallies, but the town hall meetings that happen in the state are run by CNN and Fox News for the most part. There needs to be a recognition when these kids first call into the state. Hey, I'm thinking about running for president. I hear you're a county chair. I'm trying to court you. How do I run for president? Then in the list of must dos, you must do this. You must do this. Is how you win New Hampshire. How you win New Hampshire right now is a changing question in 2016. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump won New Hampshire, not the New Hampshire way. They had large scale rallies. Donald Trump famously never spent even spent the night in the state. Most of his events didn't even take questions. And so it comes from reinforcing the old rules. If you think they matter, they're reinforcing the rules right now. Independent candidates that don't play by the old rules are certainly not being punished in on the national level. They're being rewarded.

Peter Biello:
Well, there is so much to talk about with respect to the New Hampshire primary. I want to give the last word to Lauren Chooljian here regarding stranglehold. How many episodes left and what are you going to cover?

Lauren Chooljian:
Well, Peter were hoping to take it all the way to February 11th and maybe a little bit beyond. And like I said earlier, I think our focus is now the campaign trail, but not the candidates. So, you know, working on a piece right now about do endorsements matter as much as they used to? You know, James got into this a little bit with what he was just saying. You know, it used to mean a lot to have somebody from Nashua say, I backed this candidate because that person from Nashville could connect you to, you know, a hundred other people that they knew because they were in their community. Well. Now you get those same eyeballs in Nashua. If you just, you know, direct your social media advertisments in the right spot or get the correct e-mail addresses from some event. And so I think, again, we're trying to encapsulate this moment, this moment in the primary history, because it's happening right before our eyes. And we want to give people a way to decide for themselves what they think about the primary. And the feedback has been great. And I want to encourage people to keep it coming. Good, bad or otherwise.

Peter Biello:
That's NHPR's Lauren Chooljian, co-host of NHPR podcast Stranglehold. Lauren, thank you very much for speaking with us today. Really appreciate it. And thanks also to Boston Globe reporter James Pindell. James, we really appreciate you.

James Pindell:
An honor to be on.

Peter Biello:
James Pindell was joining us by Skype. Thanks also to NHP as Jack Rodolico of Stranglehold, who joined us earlier in the program. That is it for today. We apologize for not being able to get to all the calls that that came in. But remember, the conversation about the show continues on Facebook and at NHPR. You can subscribe to Stranglehold an all of an h.p.'s podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. Just open up your podcast app on your smartphone, search for stranglehold and hit that subscribe button. It's free and it's informative.

And you'll keep in touch with what's happening during this primary cycle. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. The engineer is Dan Colgan. Our producers are Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips. Senior producer is Ellen GRIMM. Michael Brindley is our program manager.