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New Hampshire sets Jan. 23 as presidential primary date, bucking Biden's preference

For a century, New Hampshire voters have participated in the first-in the-nation presidential primary. Despite the DNC's desire to do so, they are unlikely to change that status in the 2024 presidential nominating calendar.
Scott Eisen
Getty Images
For a century, New Hampshire voters have participated in the first-in the-nation presidential primary. Despite the DNC's desire to do so, they are unlikely to change that status in the 2024 presidential nominating calendar.

Updated November 15, 2023 at 3:33 PM ET

At a press conference Wednesday, New Hampshire's top election official announced that his state would hold its 2024 presidential primary on January 23, defying the Democratic National Committee, which had urged the state to hold its primary after South Carolina.

"In today's society, it seems that we're quick to eliminate traditions and ignore them," said New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan. "But I'd like to think that 100 years from now, the people of this country will really be glad that we kept this one."

Scanlan's decision ensures the state retains its historic spot as the first-in-the-nation primary for both major parties, placing it ahead of South Carolina's Democratic primary, which is currently planned for February 3.

Upending early primary tradition

Last year, approving a proposalbacked by President Biden, the DNC chose South Carolina to lead off the 2024 Democratic nominating calendar, a state where voters rescued Biden's campaign in 2020 and where Black voters dominate the Democratic electorate.

"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 the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.

But Scanlan and other state officials disagree with the DNC's calendar changes, saying New Hampshire's primary will be held in accordance with state law, which mandates it precede any similar election by at least a week. He also challenged the idea that changes to the nominating calendar stem from a desire to increase voter diversity earlier in the process.

"Diversity is not the real issue at play in this debate," Scanlan said. "At stake is who gets to determine the nominee of the party - elites on a national party committee, by controlling the nominating calendar, or the voters? New Hampshire believes the voters of each state should decide who they prefer as the nominee to be president, not power brokers in Washington D.C."

He also argued that New Hampshire provides diversity in the presidential nominating process by making it relatively easy for any qualified U.S. citizen to have their name appear on the state's primary ballot.

"If you had the childhood dream of growing up to be President of the United States, you can try and make that a reality in New Hampshire," he said. "That fact, after all, is the purest form of the American dream."

It costs $1,000 to register as a presidential candidate in New Hampshire and that fee can be waived if other requirements are met, according to state guidelines. For the 2024 primary ballot here, 24 Republicans and 21 Democrats have registered to run for president.

The DNC also urged Iowa to change its caucus date on the same grounds it gave to New Hampshire, arguing that their Democratic electorates lack the racial diversity that leaders see as the party's future in a country that is growing more multiracial.

But Democrats in Iowa worked out a compromise with the DNC. They will hold their caucus on January 15, the same day as Republicans. In a change to their traditional caucus routine, Democratic voters will mail-in their presidential preferences and those results will be released on Super Tuesday.

A write-in campaign for the president

New Hampshire's decision to defy Biden and the DNC means that the president, who finished fifth in the Democratic contest in New Hampshire last cycle, won't officially appear on next year's primary ballot here.

Biden didn't file to have his name appear on the ballot, with his re-election campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez saying that he was obligated "to comply with party rules."

Top New Hampshire Democrats, including legislative leaders, former members of Congress and party elders — some of whom were involved in the state's failed effort to persuade Democrats to keep New Hampshire in its lead-off primary role — are now mounting an effort to encourage party members to write-in Biden on primary day.

Biden's Democratic challengers in New Hampshire include author Marianne Williamson and Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips.

Neither is expected to threaten Biden's re-nomination. But Phillips, a wealthy former businessman capable of bankrolling a full-fledged campaign in New Hampshire, has promised a heavy schedule of local outreach, including a plan to hold more than 100 town hall-style campaign events.

Republican candidates seek to overtake Trump

Meanwhile, the Republican primary season in New Hampshire, while busier and putatively more competitive, has so far been dominated by Donald Trump.

Despite facing multiple criminal trials and not spending as much time in New Hampshire as his GOP rivals, he has consistently led New Hampshire polls.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are now in a tight race for second place. Polls show Haley gaining steam and DeSantis losing momentum. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has also lost ground in recent polling here.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has meanwhile based his entire campaign strategy around leveraging his constant criticism of Trump to a strong showing in New Hampshire, but has so far remained in the middle of the pack.

Copyright 2023 NHPR

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000 and serves as NHPRâââ