CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Defenders of New Hampshire’s enviable role in presidential politics paid tribute to the past Tuesday while warning other states not to interfere with its future as the first-in-the-nation primary state.
“New Hampshire’s primary is first because we were the first to truly recognize that direct citizen involvement in the nomination process makes for better presidential candidates and better presidents,” Gov. Maggie Hassan said at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the state law that led to the modern presidential primary.
“Through the years, other states have tried to usurp our status, but we have held strong,” she said.
Though it would be decades before the candidates themselves appeared on ballots, the 1913 law written by farmer and Democratic Rep. Richard Bullock wrested control from party bosses by allowing voters to directly choose convention delegates. Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey said that kind of citizen engagement has been key to changing attitudes about New Hampshire, which has held the nation’s earliest presidential primaries since 1952.
Other states, he said, have gone “from dislike to suspicion to grudging acceptance, to now, a realization … that we do our job exceptionally well. In New Hampshire, it works because it’s simple. We let the people decide.”
By state law, New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner must set the primary at least seven days ahead of all similar contests. Other states have passed similar laws in recent years, sometimes forcing national party officials and state leaders to launch intense behind-the-scenes efforts to keep the peace.
New Hampshire, among the smallest states, benefits from tremendous political influence and economic activity that comes with attention from presidential hopefuls who often begin visiting years before the election. Other states have clamored for more of the action for decades.
But thanks to strict new penalties for states that try to vote out of order, Duprey said the New Hampshire primary is in better shape than ever, although he has learned that Arizona and Nevada may again try to skip ahead.
“That would be a very foolish move for Nevada,” Duprey said, adding that Arizona seems to be backing down.
In addition to the new penalties, the Republican National Committee has recommended a wholesale change in the GOP’s primary process that includes fewer debates and regional primaries completed before June of 2016. The committee has yet to finalize the new structure, but speaking in Concord on Monday, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said the schedule would begin with the four usual early voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
While the next presidential election is more than three years away, the primary season is already underway. Two potential 2016 contenders visited New Hampshire this month, and some have visited Iowa and South Carolina as well.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who says he’s considering a presidential run, endorsed New Hampshire’s role at a fundraiser in Concord on Monday.
“I like the process of primaries originating in small states,” said Paul, a Republican. “There are candidates on every corner, meeting and shaking hands. It’s a hopeful aspect of politics, of meeting people one on one.”
Indeed, supporters of New Hampshire’s status contrast the primary process in such a small state with larger states that generally favor candidates who can spend the most money to blanket television airwaves.
With 424 state lawmakers, New Hampshire residents are close to their government, making them well-informed and engaged, Hassan said.
“In New Hampshire,” Hassan said, “we do democracy better than anywhere else on earth.”
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