You didn't expect New Hampshire to stand idly by while other states move in anticipation of 2012, did you? Well, they're not, but what the General Court typically does in the Granite State is simply tweak the election law's language to protect the state's first-in-the-nation status. New Hampshire, after all, is unique because the legislature long ago ceded presidential primary scheduling power to the secretary of state. The advantage there is that one person can more easily make the decision on when the primary should be held. That avoids the potential for partisan wrangling (though it should be admitted that all or most of the legislators in the state support New Hampshire's status being retained) that could potentially delay the decision.
The bottom line is that when the legislature makes a change to the law concerning the presidential primary, it is typically couched in terms of 1) a change in the duties of the secretary of state on the matter and 2) to protect the state's position in the nomination process. And that's what they've done with the law below.
Here's is the New Hampshire law as it stands now:
"Presidential Primary Election. 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 whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous. Said primary shall be held in connection with the regular March town meeting or election or, if held on any other day, at a special election called by the secretary of state for that purpose."The real meat and potatoes here is the seven day cushion that New Hampshire requires between its primary and any other "similar election." Similar election has usually meant another primary, but the Democratic Party's rules for delegate selection initially placed the Nevada caucuses in between Iowa and New Hampshire and raised the issue of other states' caucuses challenging New Hampshire's primacy. The changes called for in HB 341 take care of that, though (Changes in Bold):
"Presidential Primary Election. 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, or holds a caucus or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous. Said primary shall be held in connection with the regular March town meeting or election or, if held on any other day, at a special election called by the secretary of state for that purpose. Any caucus of a state first held before 1975 shall not be affected by this provision."Seven day cushion? Check.
Protection from interloping caucuses? Check.
Exception for Iowa? Check.
I really like that clause at the end that excludes Iowa from the secretary of state's decision calculus. But why not just say Iowa? There has to be some legal matter that precludes them from naming Iowa directly that I'm missing. I may need to email Jim Splaine -- the bill's sponsor -- and find out. Splaine is close political ally of Secretary of State William Gardner and not only usually sponsors/writes the primary protection bills, but also was among the group of Gardner allies that leaked December 11 as a potential date for the New Hampshire primary in 2008. Of course, that was December 11, 2007! [That was a wildly entertaining period of political speculation.]
HB 341 was introduced and referred to committee on January 8 and has been there ever since. It may make its way out (Splaine is a member of the Election Law Committee.), but I'd guess that the folks in New Hampshire will take a wait-and-see-approach to this; waiting on what both the national parties decide to do about their nomination rules in 2012.
Now, none of this may prove necessary, technically. With the Democratic Change Commission (DCC)having been announced and the GOP still settling on the remaining members of its own Temporary Delegate Selection Committee (TDSC), there has been some discussion of Iowa and New Hampshire in 2012 already. And sources from both sides seem to be indicating that the Granite state is safe for 2012.
New Hampshire RNC member, Sean Mahoney, has said that new RNC chair, Michael Steele has assured him that the Granite state will be represented on the TDSC. The trajectory of recent Republican efforts at reform seems to indicate New Hampshire is safe anyway. The original Delaware Plan that was debated at the 2000 Republican Convention didn't call for an Iowa/New Hampshire exception. That plan was later modified to include those exceptions, but the GOP move onto the Ohio Plan, successfully passing it at the RNC level before having the effort quashed at the convention in St. Paul. But that plan also included an Iowa New Hampshire (and Nevada, South Carolina) exception as well. [Read more about those plans here.]
On the Democratic side, new DCC member from New Hampshire, Ned Helms, who was a state chair for the Obama general election campaign, insists that Iowa and New Hampshire are safe. The Iowa/New Hampshire issue may come up when the 37 members of the DCC get together, but the commission's intent is not to change Iowa and New Hampshire's positions. Embedded in that link is a nice mention of the window for future contests being closed to exclude the potential for any January contests. But that move is dangerous given how many states have "first Tuesday in February" primary dates. Even on its latest possible date, the first Tuesday in February would fall on February 7 (as it does in 2012). That would mean that either Iowa and New Hampshire squeeze into the other six days, decreasing their impact, or that state legislatures -- some of them not necessarily friendly to the wants and needs of the Democratic Party -- will have to make changes to bring their states into compliance. And what happens if February 1 is the first Tuesday in February? Again, good idea from an intentions standpoint, but with MANY unintended consequences.
That would obviously violate New Hampshire state law. Maybe they should go ahead and make the changes in HB 341 law. [Or maybe I should remove that technically above.]
Up Next: A return to the Land of Lincoln
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New Jersey in 2012 Redux
On the Move Again? 2012 Arkansas Primary