Is This the End of the Legendary New Hampshire Primary?

Special Guests: Dante Scala

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This week on Facing the Future, we take a detour up to New Hampshire as we start 2023. We are about a year away from the next New Hampshire Presidential primary. But the Democratic National Committee (DNC) recently voted – with President Biden’s blessing – to select South Carolina as its first primary state in the 2024 election. The DNC moved New Hampshire’s primary to the following week, on the same date as Nevada. Democratic Primaries in Michigan and Georgia would follow a week later. So could this be the end of the legendary “first in the nation” status for the New Hampshire primary?

For guidance on this question and what it means for both New Hampshire and how we pick presidents, we turn to University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala. Scala has written several books and scholarly articles on political polarization and the presidential nominating process. 

Later on in the program I checked in with Concord Coalition policy director Tori Gorman and chief economist Steve Robinson about the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package funding government operations through the end of the fiscal year, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden just before Christmas. 

The Concord Coalition has always had a special connection with New Hampshire, and especially with the New Hampshire presidential primary. That’s because one of our co-founders, the late Warren B. Rudman, was a two term U.S. Senator from the Granite State, and another co-founder, the late Senator Paul Tsongas, won the New Hampshire presidential primary in 1992, before suspending his campaign and founding the Coalition. Over the years we have also had some terrific opportunities in New Hampshire during the primary to meet with candidates and exert influence on the political conversation, helping to put a national focus on the critical issue of fiscal responsibility.

Professor Scala says even though momentum for the DNC’s move to jettison New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status has been building for years, how it happened still surprised him. 

“What surprised me was how forcefully President Biden weighed in on the calendar,” said Scala. “He had been on the sidelines for months about changes, even though they were clearly brewing within the Democratic party as they were deliberating for a good part of a year. Biden had been silent, and that left a bit of a vacuum about whether he cared at all about the calendar.  But he weighed in quite clearly and with a lot of force behind it, to say ‘hey this needs to change, I want South Carolina to go first.’ And he articulated the principle that voters of color are essential to the coalition of the Democratic party, they’ve been under-represented in the primary process to date[, saying] that needs to change, here’s how it should change, and that’s that.’ It is very rare to see an incumbent president play such a large role for wholesale changes in the party primary process.” 

While the Democrats have announced a big change, the national Republican party says it is sticking with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary as the first presidential voting contests for 2024. So if President Biden runs for re-election as he has indicated he intends to, there might not be that big a difference for the New Hampshire primary campaign anyway, since the competitive presidential nominating  contest is most likely to be on the Republican side. Scala also says the things that historically have made the New Hampshire primary such a rich retail politics experience where voters get to meet, question, and vet presidential candidates face-to-face have also shifted over the years.

“There’s been a great nationalization of the New Hampshire primary campaigns in the last 20 years,” said Scala. “When I first started studying the primary, candidates started in people’s living rooms, and then they gradually built bigger and bigger audiences and at the end they were talking to hundreds of people. But they started talking to a couple dozen people in someone’s living room. Well, you look at candidates who have been successful over the past couple of decades. Look at Barack Obama. He showed up in 2007 and was already talking to hundreds of people. He was way past the house party stage. Hilary Clinton was way past the house party stage. Look at Donald Trump. I thought surely sooner or later voters would punish Donald Trump for basically not answering people’s questions and only doing rallies. I was wrong. Bernie Sanders didn’t do a lot of town hall meetings. And that raises questions about how much retail politicking is actually going on that’s really meaningful.”

The fate of the New Hampshire primary may not be decided yet. State law directs the Secretary of State to set New Hampshire’s presidential primary date at least 7 days prior to any similar contest in another state. On the other hand, the national Democratic party may move to punish candidates who campaign in the Granite  State if the primary does not conform to the new schedule. So stay tuned. 

Turning to the major $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package enacted by Congress and President Biden just before Christmas, the good news is that government operations are funded through the end of the fiscal year 2023. So while we are not in danger of another government shutdown before then, Concord policy director Tori Gorman – who wrote a blog on the topic – says the spending levels are well beyond rational levels.

“The spending increase over last year on a purely top-line basis is 0.7% – less than one percent and when you’re looking at 7% inflation, that’s not such a bad deal,” said Gorman. “But if you peel back the layers and look at the details underneath, it’s actually kind of scary. When you take away all of the emergency and COVID spending that really jacked up outlays in 2022, that’s why it looks like we’re not spending a lot of money in 2023. But when you look at the base (non-emergency) discretionary spending levels—the ones that get baked into the baseline every year—  this omnibus contains huge increases in regular (base) spending. There was a 9.7% increase in defense spending. On the non-defense side there was an 8% increase. No reason for the 8% increase, it was just an attempt to keep parity with the defense increase.  This was a spending bill based on wants, not needs.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL in Concord N.H., and it is also available via podcast. Join our guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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