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N.H. would lose first-in-the-nation primary under plan backed by Biden

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New Hampshire stands to lose its decades-long spot as the first sanctioned presidential primary in the Democratic nominating calendar in 2024, under a proposal put forward Thursday night by President Joe Biden. But state political leaders have vowed to proceed with the first-in-the-nation primary regardless of the Democratic National Committee’s schedule, setting up a potential showdown heading into the next presidential election.

Biden has asked leaders of the Democratic National Committee, who are meeting Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C., to make South Carolina – the state that revived his ailing presidential campaign in 2020 – the lead-off primary state. New Hampshire and Nevada would vote next, a week later. After that, Georgia and Michigan would vote, under Biden’s preferred plan.

“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,” Biden wrote in a letter to members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Biden’s plan will need the approval of the full DNC next year. But it makes good on a goal of many national Democrats to give voters from more racially diverse states a bigger say in the earliest presidential primaries. Critics of New Hampshire’s traditional leadoff spot, alongside Iowa, have noted the state’s largely white electorate doesn’t reflect the country’s demographics. New Hampshire’s backers say the state’s history of hosting early primaries, its tradition of local governance, and its small size give candidates of all stripes an opportunity to find out what’s on voters’ minds without having to spend much money.

For more, check out NHPR's Stranglehold podcast, which explored the influence of the New Hampshire primary and past efforts to protect its status.

Biden’s proposal runs counter to New Hampshire’s state law requiring the primary here to take place a week before any similar nominating contest. The Republican National Committee has already pledged to retain New Hampshire at the head of its presidential nomination calendar.

If Biden’s proposed primary calendar holds, its impact on the 2024 Democratic race is still not certain. Biden has said he’s inclined to run for reelection, and it’s unclear now if any significant Democratic candidate will challenge him for the party’s nomination.

New Hampshire's all-Democratic congressional delegation came out against Biden's proposal Thursday night.

In a statement, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen derided it as “short sighted” and “frustrating,” but also said it will have no bearing on when New Hampshire holds its primary, which she said “levels the playing field of all candidates regardless of clout or background.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan, Rep. Annie Kuster and Rep. Chris Pappas all said they opposed Biden’s proposal and pledged to support New Hampshire’s efforts to hold the first primary election in 2024.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.