Jockeying over 2024 primary calendar has New Hampshire, region on alert

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Amanda Wihby looks forward to seeing presidential hopefuls swing through New Hampshire every four years. In fact, her diner relies on it.

“We plan on it financially, and to put ourselves on the map,” said Wihby, co-owner of the Red Arrow Diner chain, whose downtown Manchester location has seen plenty a politician pop in over the years.

But with New Hampshire’s coveted first-in-the-nation status potentially in peril as Democratic leaders eye changes to the party’s 2024 presidential primary calendar, Wihby is worried.   “It hits close to home. It’s something that I absolutely never would want to see happen,” Wihby told the Herald. “It’s not just our business that would feel it. It would be the whole state.”

Granite Staters again playing defense amid primary calendar jockeying are voicing concerns that any diminished stature could hurt local businesses that serve as campaign stops, while others wonder what potentially fewer candidate visits could mean for a region that relies on New Hampshire for unfettered access to presidential hopefuls.

“The retail politics that occurs here allows many people, not just in New Hampshire but people across New England, very close access to these candidates,” Democratic activist and former state legislator Mindi Messmer said. “It’s an important process.”

While some believe candidates will stump through the swing state regardless, University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said “the more states share that first spot, the less I think we see the candidates.”

The early war over the 2024 presidential primary calendar is already being waged on multiple fronts. 

The Nevada Assembly’s speaker, a Democrat, filed a bill in February that would try to supplant both New Hampshire and first-in-the-nation-caucus Iowa on the nominating calendar.

Democratic Party leaders’ private discussions about shifting more diverse states such as Nevada and South Carolina up in the primary process are spilling into the open.

The widely reported calls for change that could dethrone New Hampshire and Iowa are being propped up by heavyweights U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Both have ties to President Biden, who nearly flamed out in predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire before resurging in Nevada and winning South Carolina.

But New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement that the Granite State can and will “successfully defend why we should stay first in the nation.”

Granite State pols are also waging war over H.R. 1, the comprehensive elections bill House Democrats passed in early March with support from New Hampshire’s two representatives, but that Republicans and the state’s top election official, a Democrat, believe would imperil their prized presidential primary.

“There is a full-on, front-door assault by the Democratic Party to take away the New Hampshire primary,” said Steve Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, which on Sunday will launch a three-day television ad blitz to “defend the first-in-the-nation primary.” 
New Hampshire law mandates its secretary of state set the presidential primary seven days or more before another state’s “similar election,” either during an election year or the year before it. The law explicitly states its purpose is “to protect the tradition of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary.”

Still, Democratic leaders across New England are keeping a close eye on the national calendar discussions.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about this at the DNC, to move more primaries up to the beginning so it’s a real representation of what the nation looks like geographically, racially, ethnically,” said Tim Jerman, a DNC national committeeman from Vermont.

“New Hampshire should be in that group, and not be demoted away. I’d be fine if Iowa was in that group, too, but not as one alone and then next week another,” Jerman said.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford said “the early primaries need to be more representative” even if that makes it “less convenient” for Bay Staters to meet the candidates.

“From a regional perspective, I would love to have the New Hampshire primary stay and have more representation by adding in other states,” Bickford said. “Bigger picture, it needs to be fixed.”