As hurricane season kicks into gear and the Gulf Coast is still a mess, more Americans are losing health care, housing and energy costs skyrocket, and more jobs head overseas – our federal legislators are dealing with issues of monumental importance – like flag burning. It is midterm, time for the pre-2008 posturing to begin. Here in NH the furor over our first in the nation primary is in full roar. The Democratic National Committee wants to give Nevada the first primary, followed closely by NH and Iowa. The blame is flying in all directions.
NH abandoned the caucus system in 1913, and substituted a primary instead. The first real official presidential primary took place in 1916, but it didn’t become important until 1952. That was the year that Eisenhower defeated Taft, and Estes Kefauver defeated Truman in the primary, and as a result, Truman gave up on running for a third term. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson also dropped out of the race, after winning the NH primary by a very small margin (49 -42%) over Eugene McCarthy. Prior to 1992, the person elected president had always won the NH primary. Bill Clinton broke the pattern in 1992. Since then, John McCain and Pat Buchanan have both won the NH presidential primary, but did not go on to win their party’s nomination. In 1977, NH passed legislation stating that the NH primary would fall before that of any other state.
It is a tradition for those first cold ballots to be cast in tiny Dixville Notch, just after midnight. News broadcasts around the nation show footage of that voting, which may seem peculiar in some parts of the country, but it is tradition. Ritual and tradition are important, as well as comforting, in an increasingly disordered world. I don’t subscribe to the “we’ve always done it that way” school of thought, but I do respect tradition, and as a long time NH resident, I like the primary tradition.
The Democratic Party doesn’t see it the same way. Despite the fact that NH was the only state that went from red to blue in 2004, the Democrats have had the first in the nation primary in their sights, and this year they’ve gone after it. NH is a state full of white people, and that the population has been largely conservative. The DNC has stated that their goal is to add early primaries that are more representative of other states in terms of racial diversity and political viewpoint. Are we truly a political bellwether for the rest of the nation? Probably not - but NH is becoming more diverse with each passing year, and our political viewpoint is shifting. We’re on the cusp of actually becoming a two-party state! The DNC’s timing couldn’t be more wretched.
Let us not overlook the real reason for the outrage. Most of it is around money. I realize this may sound cynical – but think about it. Presidential candidates drop a bundle here. That income is important to tax free NH. The other reason is that the primary puts us on the map. If NH didn’t have that first in the nation primary, would candidates bother to spend as much time here in our small, not particularly influential state? Would we all still be able to boast that we’d met all, or most of the candidates? The first in the nation primary puts us on the map. It’s not surprising that we’d be upset about being shoved off the map.
The state GOP and our NH Congressional delegation are blaming all of this on state Democratic Party Chair Kathy Sullivan. I’m no friend of Ms. Sullivan – but this is hardly her fault. The DNC has been worked hard by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Just in case the NH GOP hasn’t been paying attention – NH doesn’t have a Democrat in Washington. A state party chair doesn’t have the same clout as a senator. There are drawbacks to the one party rule we’ve been enjoying since the Civil War, and this is certainly one of them.
The NH GOP is behaving rather badly on other levels. When state senate candidate Mark Hounsell was forced to drop out of the race, because of health concerns, the NH GOP suggested that perhaps Mark wasn’t really sick. They quickly realized that taking that view made them look like utter slime, and have since gone on to challenge new candidate George Cleveland’s party affiliation. Honest to bob – of all the people to question, they pick George Cleveland?? Given that George and his family have a long visible history with the Democratic Party, their charges are ridiculous, and serve to make state GOP Chair Wayne Semprini look weak and petty. One would hope that they don’t feel that incumbent Joe Kenney could only win if he ran unopposed, but their tactics would seem to indicate otherwise.
That these battles are raging says a lot about the political climate in our state. NH is on the brink of long overdue change. We badly need a two party system – both in our state and in our nation’s capital. Some of the issues our state legislature faced this year are also being faced by our Congressional delegation. NH legislators chose not to put a constitutional amendment banning same gender marriage on the ballot this year. Jeb Bradley was the only member of the New England Congressional delegation to vote in favor of amending the US Constitution to discriminate against a minority population. Numerous anti-immigrant bills were proposed in the NH legislature this year, and all of them went down in flames. Our federal delegation seems rather out of step with the voters of our state. Luckily, we have the power to change that on November 7.
“How can one conceive of a one-party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheeses?” Charles De Gaulle (feel free to substitute beer for cheese to make it fit NH)