Second in the Nation?

Granite Staters share opinions on the DNC's change from New Hampshire to South Carolina as the first Democratic primary.

There is no shortage of political engagement in New Hampshire. Constituents of the Granite State turn up  for their favorite presidential candidates every four years. New Hampshire’s tradition of being the first primary in the nation spanned precisely 100 years, from the elections of 1920 until the elections of 2020. Early last year, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted to move the first primary from New Hampshire to South Carolina. The change was, they claimed, to empower minority voters who are skeptical of the DNC’s base. Despite the change, Granite Staters retain their political camaraderie and remain vital political agents for the major presidential players.

The DNC voted to change the location of the first presidential primary from New Hampshire to South Carolina during their meeting in Philadelphia, Pa. last February. Spokespeople for the party emphasize the racial diversity of South Carolina, arguing that the state’s diversity lends itself to being a more accurate representation of America’s racial makeup and, thus, a better place to kick off America’s quadrennial presidential election season. Statistically, the logic follows: via the US Census for July 2023, South Carolina bears a 68.9% white population compared to New Hampshire’s 92.6% white population.

Voters are skeptical of this rationale. “I think it’s more so that Biden did better in South Carolina than he did in New Hampshire the last cycle,” said Jamie Setzler, a student from New Boston, NH, who grew up in the state and engages in primary season each year. She is not wrong; in 2020, President Joe Biden took home just 8.4% of the vote and six delegates, compared to a blowout victory of 48.6% and 39 delegates in South Carolina the same year.

Before the DNC’s decision, Biden and his team advocated for the change. “We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” wrote Biden to the DNC rules committee before their vote. 

The New Hampshire Attorney General filed a cease-and-desist order on the DNC earlier this month. The order was filed because the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws committee allegedly sent a letter to the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP), telling it to “educate the public” that the New Hampshire primary is “meaningless” this year. This language potentially violates a section of New Hampshire law that deals with voter suppression. As of January 22nd, 2024, the Attorney General’s investigation remains open.

As a result of the change, Biden has opted to skip the New Hampshire primaries entirely this year. His absence does not go unnoticed. Challengers have used Biden’s perceived neglect of the people of New Hampshire to their advantage. “No group of people have greater power,” said Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson, referring to New Hampshire voters at a campaign event this weekend in Nashua, N. H. “Democracy is not necessarily alive and well with the DNC,” said Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate at a campaign event last Monday for Democrat Dean Phillips.

Republicans, too, are leveraging Biden’s absence. At a rally in Manchester, N.H., former president and candidate Donald Trump said, “I kept you first in the nation, and some other people didn’t, they didn’t even show up for the election,” referencing Biden. Trump encouraged Democratic voters to vote for Phillips to send a message to the DNC.

Voters feel disappointed by Biden’s absence this year. The New Hampshire primary “has always been something to look forward to,” said Setzler. “It did rub me the wrong way that Biden was sort of ignoring New Hampshire.” Parody missing-style posters with Biden’s silhouette were being given away at a Phillips event in New Hampshire. By the end of the event, all of these posters were missing, too.

Parody missing-style posters with Biden’s silhouette, given away at Dean Phillips’s Town Hall in Manchester on January 22nd.

Outside of the Granite State, voters across the board feel dismayed by the DNC’s decision to change the location of the first primary. “It’s not just an absence; it’s the fact that the DNC wanted to move the election. How dare you? It’s part of the state’s constitution. New Hampshire has always lit the way,” said a campaign worker from Long Island speaking on the condition of anonymity. 

A write-in campaign for Biden has gained some popularity among Democrats in the state. Voter opinion is mixed. Setzler reasoned, “a Dean Phillips ad said, ‘why write him in when he’s writing us off?’ This resonated with me.”

“It’s bigger than any write-in campaign I’ve ever seen,” said Allison Garner, a student from Marlboro, MA. A simple “no,” said Frederick Levin, a Wall Street-related worker from West Port, CT, when asked if he had an opinion on the write-in campaign.

Signs advocating for the Biden write-in are posted across the state en masse. Similarly, a write-in campaign for the word “ceasefire” has simultaneously appeared. This particular campaign appears more contested, as signs are being taken down and canvassers are booed from their places.

Sign promoting the “ceasefire” write-in campaign in Manchester.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg appeared in New Hampshire two weeks ago to promote Biden’s infrastructure bill in light of a new traffic exit off I-93 for Londonderry and Derry, N. H. Aside from Buttigieg’s brief remarks, no notable Biden surrogates have appeared to speak on his behalf even as the election draws near.

Being the first primary is part of New Hampshire’s state constitution, and Granite Staters hold immense pride in this. While the future of the state’s “first-in-the-nation status” remains unclear, one thing is for sure – they will not lose this honor without a fight.

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