House progressive leader says Biden should file in NH primary

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May 9—NASHUA — California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna said President Joe Biden should file and run in New Hampshire's first-in the-nation primary rather than punish Democrats powerless to make changes demanded by the Democratic National Committee.

Khanna has a difficult balancing act. He is acting as a leading 2024 campaign surrogate for Biden even as the president appears determined to ignore New Hampshire if it refuses to accept a later role in the nominating process.

The 46-year-old progressive is the keynote speaker Friday night for the McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club event at the Sheraton Nashua Hotel, traditionally the state party's biggest fundraiser of the year.

"I believe the president should be on the ballot in this primary," Khanna said during a telephone interview Tuesday.

"Given the circumstances, they should not penalize New Hampshire for failing to do something that its state Democratic Party has no control over."

Khanna said Biden also should not tamper with superstition and should compete in the same lineup of primaries and caucuses that led to his victory over then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

"My view is it would be helpful if we could get South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire all with early contests, a critical part of the test for people running for national office," Khanna said.

"That's the true diversity of America, getting all the parts of the country involved."

Nationally, Democrats need to take Trump very seriously, despite his legal baggage, as the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination.

"I think Trump is still the strongest candidate on their side and the person I believe our party needs to take very seriously," Khanna said.

"He defied expectations in 2016. I was wrong and he did better than I expected in 2020. He lost but he did better than I and many thought he would.

"While I disagree with his economic message, more than any other candidate on their side, Trump speaks to and connects with worried voters. We need a very compelling economic message about where the country is going to go for the working class in 2024."

A NH primary veteran

In 2020, Khanna co-chaired Bernie Sanders' White House bid, which included winning the New Hampshire primary for the second straight time, as Biden finished a distant fifth.

South Carolina resurrected Biden 18 days later with a huge primary win that helped him coast to the nomination.

The Democratic National Committee has approved a 2024 primary calendar that gives South Carolina, traditionally a Republican state, the leadoff primary and puts New Hampshire second, on the same day as Nevada.

The DNC has given New Hampshire until next month to repeal its first-in-the-nation primary law and allow no-excuse absentee voting or risk getting pushed further back in the primary schedule.

Gov. Chris Sununu and leaders of the Republican-led Legislature have called those demands blackmail, and the Senate already has killed legislation to permit no-excuse absentee voting.

While New Hampshire is predominantly White, Khanna said he will emphasize in his speech that New Hampshire has important communities of Hispanics, Asians, natives of India, Bhutanese and many other minorities.

"My free advice to anybody looking at 2024 is that they would be wise to recognize the incredible diversity of this state if they intend to win there," Khanna said.

The North Country city of Berlin, ravaged by the closure of its paper industry, epitomizes much of rural America, which got hollowed out by the loss of manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere, especially since 2000, Khanna said.

Khanna calls for an economic plan that envisions "100 plants in 100 towns" to revitalize small communities that fell on hard economic times long before Biden became president.

"If people see this president going to these small towns, it will give hope to people in places like Berlin," Khanna said.

Economic priorities

A central theme of Khanna's politics is a "new economic patriotism" that embraces a shared purpose — celebrating Made in America and taking actions that address a lopsided trade deficit with China.

"As they continue to dump more and more production into the U.S., China hasn't focused on their own domestic economy," Khanna said.

"This cycle is hurting working people in both countries, and we need to confront it."

Khanna and Sanders jointly are seeking legislation for hospitals to get a federal tax credit for forgiving crushing medical debt bills.

Despite Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, a catastrophic illness can bankrupt a middle-class family, he said.

"If a family gets sick, you shouldn't get into debt. It's a basic decency in a country as wealthy as ours," Khanna said.

The four-term congressman, who represents Silicon Valley, believes the country needs to safely deploy artificial intelligence while preparing young Americans to fill 25 million digital jobs by 2030.

Manchester Community College is one of eight schools across the country pioneering a partnership of Google and TalentSpring to offer $5,000 scholarships for students to get certified on the basics of AI in the TechWise program.