Splaine: NH will have the first primary in 2024. It's in our law books in ink, not pencil.

Both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee have at one time or another tried to end New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Our primary, which for 100 years has been held before any other, has proven to be an effective way for potential presidents to meet voters one-by-one, face-to-face, eye-to-eye before they get to hide behind their script writers, media handlers and television cameras.

Jim Splaine
Jim Splaine

Because of the activist and attentive nature of the people of our state who take their politics personally and seriously, candidates cannot be as managed by consultants and staff as they are later.

While out-of-state Republicans have tried in past years to destroy New Hampshire's "first" status, this cycle it's the Democrats taking aim.

Forty-seven years ago, I was sole sponsor of legislation creating the machinery that has kept us first for the past half a century. That law reads, "The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the Secretary of State which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election ..."

There is magic and power in that law. It creates the mechanism for our primary to be first and has been recognized as why no state or the national parties have been able to knock us out.

New Hampshire's Democratic Party leaders, including Chair Raymond Buckley, Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and Congress members Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, among others, have put up a courageous and strong defense against the out-of-staters. 

What will happen if the Democratic National Committee does have another state, or two or three, hold earlier primaries than ours in 2024?

1. By law, our secretary of State must — as mandated — set our primary "7 days or more" ahead of whatever the DNC sets forst. We pay for our primary. Our date is our choice.

2. The Republican National Committee has already indicated that for 2024, they recognize our lead-off status, so Republican presidential candidates will file here. Lots of publicity for them. 

3. The DNC could say they won't award delegates to the Democratic National Convention to candidates who run here. But winning the limited numbers of delegates given here isn't the purpose of winning our state. It's the day-after headlines and stories of who did well, and who didn't, that people nationwide will hear about that's important.

4. The DNC could do what is termed a "poison pill," something previously promoted by Republican out-of-staters opposing our primary. They could say that any candidate who runs here would be penalized for delegates they win elsewhere. Good luck with that.  Telling voters of any state that their votes don't count isn't a pathway to the White House. Such a DNC decision would give Republicans envious talking-points that at the very least would put New Hampshire's four electoral votes on the Republican side.

5. Worse is how any DNC decision will affect President Joe Biden's candidacy for 2024, or if he doesn't run, any other Democratic contender. Do they file here, or just follow DNC dictates not to? Since we will invite Democratic presidential candidates to file, there is certain to be some relatively unknown candidates who will do so. Remember Sens. Gene McCarthy (1968) and George McGovern (1972)? Their come-from-unknown candidacies put fire under their rocket ships, and also gave sparks to Jimmy Carter (1976) and Bill Clinton (1992).

Ignoring New Hampshire will not work, and the out-of-staters should abandon their efforts. I'm sure the smarter among them will abandon those efforts. The chaos resulting from attacking or ignoring New Hampshire is in history books. Read about it.

New Hampshire will have the first primary in 2024. It's in our law books in ink, not pencil.

Today's quotes: "The secretary of state has the flexibility to decide when the filing period is and when the primary is." — former Democratic Gov. John Lynch, referring to New Hampshire state law.

Next time: Real affordable housing opportunities For Portsmouth.

Note: The story of how the law sponsored by the columnist was passed appears in the 2021 New Hampshire Manual for the General Court, commonly called "The Red Book," which is an annual publication detailing state history. Contact the secretary of state's office for a link at 603 271-3242.

Jim Splaine has served variously since 1969 as Portsmouth assistant mayor, Police Commission member, and School Board member, as well as New Hampshire state senator and representative. He can be reached at jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Splaine: NH will have the first presidential primary in 2024