NH Dems ask national party not to 'punish' them on primary

FILE - Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, arrives to speak to a forum on the future of the Democratic Party Dec. 2, 2016, in Denver. New Hampshire Democrats are asking the national party not to "punish" them while overhauling its 2024 presidential primary calendar. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File) (David Zalubowski, Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – New Hampshire Democrats on Thursday asked the national party not to “punish” them while overhauling its 2024 presidential primary calendar, arguing that implementing the proposed shakeup may amount to a “poison pill” against their state's traditional role as among the first to vote.

In a letter to the Democratic National Committee's rulemaking arm, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley noted that state law mandates that New Hampshire hold the nation's first presidential primary. He said changing it would require the support of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and GOP members of the state Legislature, who oppose doing so.

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“The DNC has handed New Hampshire Republicans a salient political attack to use against both state and national Democrats,” Buckley wrote. “This is an unfortunate, reckless, and self-inflicted blow.”

A DNC rulemaking committee voted last month to remove Iowa's caucus as the leadoff of the presidential nominating calendar it has held since 1972 and replace it with South Carolina's primary on Feb. 3, starting in 2024. Nevada and New Hampshire would go next, three days later, followed by Georgia the following week and then Michigan the week after that. Much of the rest of the country would subsequently vote on Super Tuesday.

President Joe Biden has championed a reordered primary calendar to better reflect the party’s deeply diverse electorate — especially the steadfast support of Black voters, who are prominent in South Carolina. The proposed changes also follow a technical meltdown that marred the results of Iowa's 2020 caucus. They are set to be approved by the full DNC at a meeting in Philadelphia next month.

The new order may be moot for the next presidential cycle since Biden has said he intends to seek reelection, meaning his party will have little appetite for building out a robust 2024 primary calendar that could allow for challenges from other Democratic candidates. Still, what the national party decides for 2024 could influence primaries in 2028 and beyond, and Buckley's letter lays bare how not all states are supportive of sweeping changes.

New Hampshire Democrats say that their state has held the nation's first presidential primary for more than a century and that Iowa only preceded it because of its caucus format. Some have vowed to simply hold the New Hampshire primary first regardless of the calendar set by the national party, but the rules committee proposal says states doing so could face sanctions.

Sununu, sworn in for his fourth term as governor on Thursday, referenced Democrats' efforts to move New Hampshire's primary behind South Carolina's: “I have a message for President Biden: You can come and try to take it, but it is Never. Going. To. Happen."

“We are not going to be blackmailed," the governor said. "We are not going be threatened, and we will not give up.”

In the past, states attempting to jump ahead have risked losing delegates to the national party convention, discouraging presidential candidates from spending time campaigning in them. Buckley's letter decried the “DNC’s threat to punish New Hampshire if it complies with state law.”

The state Democratic Party chairman wrote that any effort by the party or the Biden campaign to “withhold resources from the state until after the primary” would “gravely harm our efforts to build a general election coordinated campaign to reelect the president, elect Democrats up and down the ticket, and give Republicans the chance to out-organize our party in a state that has continued to trend blue.”

The DNC rules committee has also asked states now set to be among the first five voting in its primary to show progress toward expanding access to the ballot box through efforts like easing early voting rules. Buckley said New Hampshire Republicans have also opposed doing that, and called it “another area where the DNC’s requirements serve as nothing more than a seemingly deliberate poison pill for New Hampshire’s primary."

“We ask that this committee not punish New Hampshire Democrats and recognize the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary in 2024,” he wrote.


Associated Press writer Holly Ramer contributed from Concord, New Hampshire.

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