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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Primary overhaul could affect NH

Citing a need to build interest and momentum in the presidential primaries, a Republican committee has proposed a revamped schedule for the nominating process -- a change that could affect New Hampshire's coveted first-in-the-nation standing.

Formulated out of frustration that the nomination decisions were effectively made by March 7 this year, the proposal -- which will not face endorsement until the Republican National Convention meets this summer -- suggests that small states host their primaries early in the election cycle, followed by medium and then large-sized states later on.

Though the report makes no mention of New Hampshire and Iowa's current status, the two states are now, more than ever before, under pressure to alter the timing of their primaries.

The threat to New Hampshire's status is not new. Since the 1970s, states have tried to challenge New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation standing, as Delaware most recently did earlier this year.

"We always take it as a serious threat, but it's nothing unusual," New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardener told The Dartmouth.

He said New Hampshire "would not and never has" pushed back its primary date in response to external pressure.

"We've been campaigning," Gardner said. "We're better off now than we have been in a long time. We don't have any other state challenging our position which hasn't been the case in a long time."

Government professor Richard Winters, a specialist in state politics, said it is unlikely that New Hampshire will change its primary dates unless the national parties threaten to withhold delegates.

"New Hampshire politicians have been very skillful at maintaining its first-in-the-nation status," he explained. "Partly it's precedence, they can also make the case of a small, well-informed primary electorate that nicely tests the candidates."

Far from the only recent proposal to reform the nominating process, the Republican one -- made last week by a committee headed by former Party chair Bill Brock -- is the most serious one to date.

Since California and other West Coast states decided to hold their primaries on Super Tuesday this year, the phenomenon of frontloading has been met with several other reform ideas, including rotating regional and time-zone primaries.

At the same time, the Brock plan will likely face serious hurdles in the months to come.

For one, it is unclear that the more populous states such as California and New York will forfeit their current Super Tuesday standing, and it is equally ambiguous whether the Democratic Party will agree to the plan.

Even if both parties endorse the Brock proposal, getting every state legislature to change its nominating procedure would be difficult.

"This is the first step in a long, drawn-out process," said Winters. "This is a major step forward to consider changes."

Under the plan, the 12 smallest states would be able to hold their primaries or caucuses no earlier than the first Tuesday in March, and any could hold them later.

Thus, the candidates would be narrowed in the early stages of the nominating process, but final decisions would not be made until later when the larger states hold their primaries.

The Brock report said its proposal could ease "many of the problems that have come to plague the current nominating process -- frontloading, compression, low voter turnout, early media frenzy, excessive 'tarmac and media ad' campaigning."

That the plan would build interest and momentum in the primaries throughout the nominating process seems likely, but it could also create new problems, professor of government Linda Fowler said.

"If anything, the costs would be more," Fowler explained. "The primary process would take longer, and anything that takes longer would cost more."

In addition, said Winters, presidential hopefuls would likely campaign in states where they would have the best prospects of winning, thereby drawing out a number of regional candidates.

"It would probably introduce a geographic effect that would be polarizing," he said. "It would be more competitive."

Fowler added that in addition to involving more voters throughout the country, the plan could disorient them as well.

"Instead of a frontrunner, you could end up with a number of candidates that all have a few states. And that would be very confusing."