N.H.'s New GOP Committee Rep Says Primary Process Must Stay Neutral

Jan 30, 2020

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

State Republicans last weekend elected grassroots activist Chris Ager to represent New Hampshire on the Republican National Committee.

Ager succeeds longtime party-insider Steve Duprey, who had the endorsement of Governor Chris Sununu. Duprey decided to step down immediately, allowing Ager to attend the national convention this summer.

NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley sat down with Ager to chat about his plans heading into the 2020 presidential primary and general election.

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(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

One of the traditional responsibilities of representing New Hampshire on the GOP National Committee is protecting the state's first-in-the-nation status in the presidential primary. I'm sure [you've been] well steeped in this. Is that a top priority for you?

It absolutely is for me, personally. And in our bylaws, there are two major elements of the job. One is representing New Hampshire to the Republican National Committee, and there are a lot of different facets for that. But the No. 1 enumerated task is to help protect the first-in-the-nation primary. So I've already talked to the northeast region co-chairs for the Republican National Committee. I'm in communication with the leader of the RNC, the committee man in Iowa. And we're already formulating plans to continue what is called Rule 16 that lays out the exact process, the timing for all of the primary season, including starting with the Iowa caucus all the way through the nomination process. So we're laying out a plan to make sure we can preserve that Rule 16 the way it is.

What are you hearing from them? I mean, do you get a feeling that there is an impetus to keep things in status quo? You know, we've had presidential candidates for the first time, I think, openly saying on the campaign trail, you know, maybe Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn't be first.

I think it's a constant battle to keep it first. And to keep it first, we need to articulate why it's good for the country. And I was talking to Tulsi Gabbard Saturday. I just happened to see her at an American Legion post after I was elected national committeeman - just by happenstance. And I talked to her about, you know, are you being treated fairly? Are the Republicans giving you any undue grief? How were you able to get your message out in New Hampshire? And just, you know, a small tidbit, she's like, 'no, I love it here.' She enjoyed the opportunity for somebody who may not be in the upper tier at the time to get their message out. And this is a great venue to do it where you're not in a really expensive media market. You're not in a big state. And so you allow some of these candidates an opportunity and it's good for the country. So it's also great for New Hampshire, but it's good for the country to have that vetting system that allows for those candidates to get a fair voice here.

Can you see some of the contrarian arguments that maybe it's not quite fair for a state like New Hampshire to be first in the nominating process, that maybe we need a more diverse state?

Well, diversity of thought, I think, is really what's important here. And we have a very independent minded electorate, and we also have a very well educated electorate that can help dig deep into the issues. So it's not a media campaign where if you have the most money to put out commercials, you win this. You really get to vet those candidates.

There will always be somebody who wants to be first, and New Hampshire has had a long tradition of serving the country. And there'll always be arguments, you know, why somebody else should be first. We need to continue to support and articulate our arguments of why it's important. I think Martin Luther King, frankly, wouldn't like the argument that says I need a certain number of people of certain colors to vote. It's the content of people's character. And people in New Hampshire take this very seriously. They study the candidates. They investigate. They quiz them. And as we've seen over the years, we do vote generally for the candidates that the country ends up picking and becoming presidents. So I think it's very important for the country that we maintain the first-in-the-nation primary.

Your predecessor, Steve Duprey, preached neutrality when it came to the state Republican Party and GOP primary races, and that remains the official position of the party. I know you are an avid Trump supporter and activist. Do you think the Republican Party should consider getting involved in primary races, at least on the presidential level?

So I believe it's good to be neutral in a primary. And I was asked this last summer when there was some discussion where other states have basically canceled their primaries in support of the incumbent president. I'm a big, big President Trump supporter. I think, however, for the state, it's important to maintain an open primary and allow a primary. The strong candidates are going to stay strong and they're going to get the votes. And so why not allow people to have a say. Whether the party officials need to be neutral or not, the party itself should be open, fair and have a primary and allow that process to go forward. I think it just helps all the candidates and nobody gets a free ride. You have to come and articulate your message. The president will be here Feb. 10 and he's going to articulate his message to the people of New Hampshire as to why he should be re-elected.