New Hampshire official vows to try to keep first primary |

New Hampshire official vows to try to keep first primary

Joe Magruder

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – New Hampshire will hold its presidential primary in late 2007 if necessary, a top state elected official said, though he hopes it will not be so.

Secretary of State William Gardner suggested that he expects more challenges before 2008 to New Hampshire’s tradition of holding the nation’s earliest presidential primary.

A Democratic National Committee panel voted last month to let Nevada hold nominating caucuses in January 2008, between Iowa’s traditional leadoff caucuses and New Hampshire’s traditional earliest primary.

The DNC is shaking up the calendar to add racial and geographic diversity to the process. Critics say it will doom underdogs by further front-loading the calendar.

If the Nevada plan goes forward, New Hampshire law will require Gardner to decide whether the Nevada event is a “similar election” to the New Hampshire primary. If he decides it is, the law would require him to schedule the primary at least a week earlier.

In a telephone interview, Gardner said he won’t make that decision soon.

“I’m going to do that a year or so from now because I think, more likely than not, there will be something else that will actually trigger the law,” he said.

Harry Levine of Victory New Hampshire, a group that has launched a campaign to preserve New Hampshire’s primary status, said Gardner is concerned about other states moving their primaries up, possibly even ahead of Nevada. That type of front-loading has pushed New Hampshire’s primary from March into January over the decades.

“Other states are now going to start jockeying for position,” Levine said. “It’s kind of this domino effect that the secretary of state has to deal with pretty much every four years.”

At a forum Monday night in Nashua, Gardner said he hopes nothing happens to require him to move the primary from January 2008 to late 2007.

“We don’t want that to be the case,” he said. “But if it has to be, it will be.”

He noted that New Hampshire amended its law this year to make that task easier for him should it become necessary. The old law required candidates to file for the primary during a three-week period the previous November. Now, Gardner can schedule the filing period earlier.

The Democratic National Committee meets Aug. 17-19 in Chicago to vote on the 2008 nominating calendar. In addition to adding Nevada caucuses, the DNC’s rules committee recommended letting South Carolina hold its primary soon after New Hampshire’s, but before voting in other states.

Levine said his group and Gardner also are concerned about 2012, because the Democratic Party has recommended its national chairman, Howard Dean, work with Republicans on a new calendar. The Republicans’ next chance to change their calendar comes at the national GOP convention in September 2008.

“It’s not just about 2008 – it’s about an effort to diminish New Hampshire’s position in the primary schedule, which we think we have earned,” Levine said.

“If the first primary goes to a bigger state, candidates will land at the airport, step on the tarmac and hold a news conference, go straight to the TV studio, cut a commercial and never have to address voters in person,” he said.

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