MANCHESTER, N.H. —
New Hampshire is now officially in another battle to hold on to the first-in-the-nation status of its presidential primary.
State lawmakers in Nevada filed a bill on Monday to change that state’s presidential nominating contest from a caucus to a primary in 2024 – and to move it to a position on the calendar where they say it will be first in the nation.
It’s not unexpected. Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who remains a powerful figure in Nevada and national politics, announced last year that he would pursue making Nevada first and would try to convince his friend and former Senate colleague President Joe Biden to support the change.
Reid for 15 years has been complaining that Iowa, which holds the first caucus, and New Hampshire are not diverse enough to be worthy of their first-in-the-nation positions.
Biden has friends in New Hampshire, too. One of them is Bill Shaheen, a longtime party activist and husband of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Bill Shaheen is currently is in his third term as the state’s Democratic National Committeeman.
“It looks like they’ve thrown down the gauntlet,” Shaheen told WMUR. “It’s on …. Let’s get it on.”
He said he will work to ensure that New Hampshire remains first.
The Nevada bill would set the 2024 Nevada primary for the second to last Tuesday in January, which will be Jan. 23.
New Hampshire’s state law mandates its presidential primary be held seven days or more ahead of any “similar election” held by another state, and it gives the Secretary of State, who for the past 45 years has been Bill Gardner, the sole authority to determine what is – and is not – a similar election and to set the date of the New Hampshire primary.
New Hampshire’s state law also makes it clear: “The purpose of this section is to protect the tradition of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary.”
It is likely that if the Nevada primary is held on the date set out in their bill, Gardner will set the date of the New Hampshire primary for Jan. 16 – or earlier if he deems it necessary.
In an interview Monday night, Gardner – as he usually does – took the challenge in stride.
“Our law says that our primary will be on the second Tuesday in March. It has long been that way,” Gardner told WMUR.
“But our law also says that in order to preserve the tradition of the primary, if we have to move it earlier, if a state has a similar election, we will go seven or more days ahead of that state.
“There have been laws over the years in other states to have a primary the same days as ours,” Gardner said. “We’ve had states move up and then back. We’ve had states try to move ahead of us and there have been bills in state legislatures concerning moving their dates.”
“But we’ve been first for over 100 years,” Gardner said.
Gov. Chris Sununu weighed in on the controversy, expressing confidence in Gardner and confidence in New Hampshire remaining first.
He said in a statement first shared with WMUR:
“After the uncertainty and turmoil surrounding the Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire’s successful, 100 percent accurate and timely primary re-instilled voter confidence, giving the entire nation peace of mind in the electoral process.
“Bill Gardner has overseen our elections for decades and I have full confidence that New Hampshire will continue to serve as the gold standard with another first-in-the-nation primary next election cycle.”
While the state law keeps New Hampshire’s primary first in the nation by a week ahead of any similar election, the national political parties have the power to choose what candidates will be awarded all-important national convention delegates from what states.
If the parties decide that New Hampshire’s primary is not worthy of being a vehicle to provide delegates in 2024, the state law can’t force them to. The parties could withhold delegates from candidate who campaign in New Hampshire and not recognize the primary results.
Another key part of the puzzle is the national media. If the candidates campaign in New Hampshire, the national media will cover them – and the results will have the same nationwide repercussions as they have historically, regardless of whether delegates are awarded.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley said his Nevada counterpart called earlier Monday to inform him the bill had been filed.
“I think all challenges to the New Hampshire primary are serious and we take all challenges seriously,” Buckley said in an interview. “We will work very hard with Secretary Gardner and the Republicans and our friends and allies around the country. And we will prevail.”
Buckley noted that Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have “embraced our relationship” as the four early voting states since Nevada and South Carolina were added to the early voting lineup in 2006.
Those states were added by both political parties to bring states with diverse populations into the early part of the nominating process.
That mutual relationship appears now to have been pushed to the side by Nevada.
“Every four years since at least 1975, I think there has been some level of a challenge,” Buckley said. “Having South Carolina and Nevada moved to being early states was done so more diverse voices are heard, and we believe that has enhanced the nominating process significantly.”
Shaheen said he disagreed with the suggestion by critics that New Hampshire voters are incapable of making good choices in its primary because the state has a less diverse population than other states.
“In 2020, we did our job and we will do it again,” Shaheen said. He said Biden, despite finishing fifth, emerged from New Hampshire a stronger candidate.
Shaheen said he has already been in touch with New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Chris Ager and, Shaheen said, the two have agreed to work together.
It has long been a New Hampshire tradition that party leaders on each side set aside their differences — no matter how sharp and wide – and unite to protect the primary.
Meanwhile, it is unclear if Republicans in Nevada are on board with the new bill. The sponsors are Democrats, and Democrats are in the majorities of the Nevada House and Senate. The governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, is also a Democrat.
That makes it likely the bill will pass.
McCurdy says Nevada “is majority-minority state with a strong union population and the power structure of the country is moving west.”
But top Nevada Republicans told WMUR less than two weeks ago that they were pleased with the current lineup, which has Iowa holding the first caucus, New Hampshire holding the first primary, followed by Nevada and then South Carolina.
Republican National Committeeman Jim Degraffenreid said that although the Democrats in his state may try to move up their contest to first, “There’s nothing in stone that says the Democrat and Republican events need to be on the same day, and they have not always been on the same day in the past.”
“If the Democrats decide to do something that is not in the Republican Party’s best interest, the nominating process is by the party,” he said. “It does not have to be joint between the two.
“New Hampshire is first in the nation. We’re first in the West. We’re very happy with that arrangement.”