New Hampshire and the Democratic National Committee are in a battle over the state’s refusal to give up its status as the first state to hold a presidential primary next year, and the gambit may cost the state President Biden’s appearance on the state’s ballot and a number of New Hampshire delegates at the party’s 2024 presidential nominating convention.
The DNC is upending the 2024 presidential nominating process by making South Carolina the first primary state, knocking New Hampshire out of its coveted position. But New Hampshire has so far refused to concede the spot, breezing by a Sept. 1 deadline the DNC had set for New Hampshire to give up its position.
On Thursday, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee extended the deadline for New Hampshire to come into compliance to Oct. 14, reserving its threat of sanctions that would remove some of the state’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention next year if it doesn’t comply with the national party’s primary calendar changes. At this point, the committee says it has only received a plan from New Hampshire that does not include a primary date.
If the New Hampshire primary is held ahead of South Carolina, Mr. Biden and his campaign may omit his name from the ballot in New Hampshire, in protest of its failure to comply with party rules. Mr. Biden, whose successful pursuit of the 2020 nomination was launched by South Carolina’s support, initially proposed that the state go first in the Democrats’ primary process.
New Hampshire Democrats argue they lack the authority to move the primary because New Hampshire law requires the state’s primary to be set at least a week before any other nominating contest. To comply, a reversal of the 1975 law would have to pass a Republican-led majority in the Legislature. While just 43% of Democrats support the “first in the nation” law, a majority of Republicans and independents in the state support the law, according to a University of New Hampshire poll. A DNC calendar change has long been floated, and New Hampshire hasn’t taken steps to change its law.
“There’s no way the state of New Hampshire could change its law in time for the primary,” said Raymond Buckley, New Hampshire State Democratic Party chairman.
New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan has not set a date for the primary but plans to adhere to the first-in-the-nation rule.
“We’re still watching other states to see what they do in terms of their timing,” Scanlan said.
The absence of the current president and the party’s presumptive nominee from the New Hampshire ballot could leave space for a dark-horse challenger to win the first state to cast ballots in the Democratic nominating process, even though primary observers doubt the president’s dominance is in real jeopardy.
If Mr. Biden is not on the New Hampshire ballot, the candidate most likely to benefit is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But Kennedy is still a long shot. Turnout in non-competitive presidential primaries, when an incumbent is running, is typically low. Granite State polling shows Democrats in New Hampshire will likely hand Mr. Biden a win as a write-in candidate, even as the president’s approval ratings remain low.
“Without doubt, [Mr. Biden] will be successful in the New Hampshire primary,” said Buckley.
It wouldn’t be the first time the eventual Democratic nominee wasn’t on a primary ballot and went on to win the state in a general election. In 2008, Barack Obama and John Edwards pulled their names off the Michigan ballot after the state disobeyed the DNC and moved its primary to an earlier date. As a result, Michigan was only awarded half of its delegates. Hillary Clinton, who kept her name on the ballot, won the primary in Michigan that year, although Obama went on to win the Democratic nomination and ultimately the presidency.
Supporters of the DNC calendar overhaul say the 2024 Democratic calendar is more representative of the diversity that makes up the modern party. New Hampshire is nearly 93% White, according to the Census Bureau. But non-Whites accounted for 4 in 10 Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in 2020, according to Pew.
Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire remained in the early lineup when the DNC approved Biden’s proposed calendar in February. Under the schedule, New Hampshire and Nevada would host primaries on Feb. 6, three days after the South Carolina primary. Because New Hampshire still plans to hold its primary earlier, it’s unlikely there will be a second primary on Feb. 6.
Buckley is prepared to face the consequences, but adds, “What we don’t want is any sanction to have an impact in our ability to carry the state in November of ’24.”