Read news coverage of the 2024 presidential primary calendar, and you’ll see words like “in limbo, “unsettled,” and “in flux.”
But ask New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan about the notion that New Hampshire won’t hold the first primary, and he’s got a word of his own.
In the months since the Democratic Party pushed through President Joe Biden’s primary calendar — dumping Iowa, bumping New Hampshire to a second-place tie with Nevada, and putting South Carolina at the front of the line — there has been a steady stream of political reporting based on the premise that New Hampshire’s place on the calendar is uncertain.
While it is true the actual date of New Hampshire’s primary remains unknown, Scanlan reiterated Monday there is no doubt that whatever the date is — up to and including Halloween 2023 if necessary — it will be eight days before any similar contest as required by state law.
“I have been very clear, and nothing has changed,” Scanlan said. “New Hampshire will hold the first primary — period.”
This is what has Granite State political pros and party activists puzzled by the media coverage. There is literally no scenario that can stop both parties from holding their primary on the same date and before every other state. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has threatened sanctions, likely the loss of delegates. But New Hampshire has faced down those threats before.
Scanlan, a Republican, served under Democratic Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who held the office for 46 years and is widely viewed as the General George S. Patton of the Granite State primary. Gardner helped implement the strategy — including the state’s infamous “first-in-the-nation” law — and then used bold political tactics to confront every challenge.
Before his retirement in 2022, Gardner recounted the day future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited his office in 1983. The 1984 Democratic convention was going to be held in her city of San Francisco, and the DNC elites had decided New Hampshire had to give up its spot.
“She came to my office and told me we had to move our primary, that the party had decided, and we had no choice. I told her that as long as the people of New Hampshire wanted our state to go first and had a law on the books that said so, that’s what we were going to do,” Gardner told NHJournal.
As she stormed out of his office, Pelosi turned to the then-35-year-old Gardner and said: “You probably think you have a political career ahead of you. You will never win another election because the people will have you and only you to blame when they have no delegates at the convention.”
In the end, Iowa held its caucuses, New Hampshire held the first primary, all of the state’s delegates were seated, and Gary Hart scored a massive upset over former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Nobody at the current DNC has yet to demonstrate they have a better strategy than Pelosi’s.
Last Friday, the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to give the Granite State until September 1 to re-schedule its primary. Granite State Democrats responded by repeating yet again they have no interest in doing so even if they could.
“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary, and it is not theirs to take away,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley has said repeatedly since the DNC vote.
“We have a state law that says we’re going to go first, so we’re going to go first,” is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s go-to line.
And so when Minyon Moore, co-chair of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, says, “There’s some space between us and the folks in the state [of New Hampshire] on this,” that “space” is approximately the size of a political Grand Canyon.
Meanwhile, other states are shoring up New Hampshire’s place at the front of the line.
After giving Georgia the fourth spot in line, on February 13, in its new calendar, the DNC has bowed to inevitability and acknowledged Georgia wouldn’t be one of the early states. That decision alone means the DNC calendar as passed has already been blown up.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina GOP just voted to move its primary. But not forward to February 3 as demanded by the DNC, but back — to February 24. Assuming Nevada holds its contest in early February, that will give South Carolina weeks in the national political spotlight — a spotlight the state’s Democrats are all but certain to want to be a part of.
“This will give our voters the chance to do what they do best – interact one-on-one with our candidates,” said SCGOP Chairman Drew McKissick.
Also on Friday, the DNC shot down a proposal by Iowa Democrats to hold a bifurcated caucus/“presidential preference card” mail-in event. The state had proposed holding a caucus for local and state party business while allowing people to mail in their “presidential preference cards,” better known as a “mail-in ballot.”
The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is giving the Iowa Democratic Party 30 days to make changes to the plan. But that won’t fix the problem that the Democrats’ plan likely violates the state’s new law mandating that caucuses must be held in person.
And even if Iowa Democrats can somehow get around a GOP-controlled state government and the DNC’s opposition to having the Hawkeye State go early, the mail-in ballot concept creates another problem: New Hampshire may decide it’s a “similar contest” to the First in the Nation primary. State law would then require the Granite State to go ahead of Iowa.
Asked about the Iowa Democrats’ scheme, Scanlan declined to say definitively whether it would be viewed as a primary-style contest.
“Things are still in flux in Iowa, and I’m not going to insert myself into their politics,” Scanlan said, though he acknowledged Iowa’s actions could trigger New Hampshire’s law.
And like many in New Hampshire politics, Scalan sees the DNC’s actions as an entirely self-inflicted political wound.
“From my perspective, Iowa Democrats in the past have had very successful traditional caucuses. My feeling is they should stand up to the DNC and say that’s what we’re going to continue to do. But that’s not my call to make.”
Unlike the call that will be made regarding which state holds the First in the Nation primary. And Scalan has already made it.