There was plenty discussed this weekend about the Democratic National Committee’s decision regarding New Hampshire’s role in the Presidential Primary Nomination Calendar, as there has been in recent months and likely in future months as well. In the end though, did this weekend’s decision to officially put South Carolina first really matter? The short answer is no, and the long answer is not at this time, and that long answer deserves a thread.
- Why does New Hampshire matter?
New Hampshire has had the first presidential primary in the nation since 1920 and as many have stated, state law requires New Hampshire to go seven days before any “similar election.”
But, without that law and without that tradition, why should New Hampshire go first? Ultimately, New Hampshire has provided an opportunity for presidential candidates to show that they are capable of connecting directly with voters, including candidates that might otherwise be overlooked. There are three reasons for this.
First, New Hampshire is a small state. It is possible for a campaign to conduct a state-wide campaign far cheaper than they could in say, California or Texas. Second, New Hampshire has a wide array of political opinions among its electorate. Races are generally competitive at the state-wide level. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, New Hampshire residents have an expectation that when they are not decision-makers themselves at town meetings or as elected officials, they will have access to others who are elected officials.
Those three things cannot be duplicated in any other state, at least not at this time, and those are the things that, at least in theory, make New Hampshire’s primary what it is.
- Does New Hampshire matter anymore?
Ultimately, New Hampshire’s presidential primary doesn’t matter and never matters in terms of delegates to national party conventions. Most people forget that when voters head to the polls for a presidential primary, they are not voting for a candidate, but people who pledge to vote for that candidate at the convention.
In both of the major national parties, New Hampshire has a microscopic number of delegates. Instead, the importance of New Hampshire comes from the notoriety that a candidate can achieve, either from surprising people with their showing, or the ability to meet expectations.
Obviously, a party that does not hold the White House is likely to have plenty of candidates seeking the nomination, but in theory the party that holds the White House also needs to show that their incumbent still has control over their party apparatus if they are seeking re-nomination.
Neither party has seen an incumbent face a serious challenge since Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy sparred in 1980, but Joe Biden could potentially see a defacto challenger if he does not file for the 2024 New Hampshire Presidential Primary, although it remains to be seen if that will happen. If it does happen though, it would be damaging to the usual narrative that the campaigns of incumbent presidents leading a united party into the general election.
- Will New Hampshire matter in 2028?
The Republicans have reaffirmed their support of keeping New Hampshire first in their nomination calendar, and at this point it looks the Democrats are going to hold firm on their decision with South Carolina for 2024 given South Carolina’s role in saving Biden’s candidacy in 2020.
Indeed, if Biden does not face an insurgency in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary will not be particularly significant just as every New Hampshire Presidential Primary after that race in 1980 with an incumbent has not been competitive.
However, Joe Biden is almost certainly not going to run again in 2028. If he gets a second term in 2024, he will be term limited and if he loses, he will be 86 years old on inauguration day if he wins in 2028. He is already the oldest president ever, almost eight years older than the next oldest person starting their first presidential term, Donald Trump.
So, that means the Democrats will almost certainly have an open primary in 2028 and if South Carolina remains first, what happens then? Will there be penalties from the Democratic National Committee for candidates that file or campaign in New Hampshire? And perhaps most importantly – will candidates that come to New Hampshire and talk with voters or will they talk to voters in large rallies where they can avoid answering the questions voters might have? For that matter, do voters feel like they no longer have direct access to candidates, even here in New Hampshire? Do they even have questions or has the nation’s political climate become so partisan that they have already made up their minds and are just seeking a candidate that validates their worldview?
These are the real questions to be answered and unfortunately those questions cannot be answered today, but they will be questions that will linger and will have an impact on our democracy.