First-in-the-nation primary loses its top champion — but the calendar probably isn’t changing

Throughout a 2012 jailbreak by a handful of states seeking to shift their contests ahead throughout the contested Republican primary, Gardner threatened to schedule New Hampshire’s contest in December 2011 if that’s what it took to protect New Hampshire’s spot as the first primary state. (POLITICO’s headline at the time: “N.H.’s Gardner to Nevada: Drop useless.”)

In a meandering retirement press convention on Monday — the place he touched on every part from a latest go to from a North Carolina state legislative chief to pulling the state’s unique copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Invoice of Rights out of the partitions of the State Home — Gardner stated his retirement doesn’t imply New Hampshire will probably be any much less aggressive about defending its spot.

“No, it’s not a foul day” for the state’s standing, he instructed reporters. “Our primary is stronger each 4 years, as a result of each time we now have one it makes it stronger.”


“There is no such thing as a motive to assume that this primary is in any tougher place than it has been,” he continued. “There will probably be challenges. They’ll discover new methods to try [it], but it needs to be okay.”

Some Democrats have been agitating to shake up the primary calendar forward of the 2024 election, arguing that the predominantly white New Hampshire and Iowa — which holds its caucuses earlier than the Granite State’s primaries — are unrepresentative of each the Democratic citizens and the nation as an entire.

The late Sen. Harry Reid lengthy tried to maneuver Nevada to the entrance of the line, which Gardner famous in his farewell press convention. Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a legislation in 2021 that switches the state from a party-run caucus system to a state-run presidential primary that will probably be held on the “first Tuesday in February,” a bid to dethrone New Hampshire that Gardner brushed apart at the time.

“Harry Reid’s been doing this for over half a century now, and we’re simply ready for him to expire of steam,” Gardner said in June, noting the state has often held January primaries.

And a few of the push to shake up Democrats’ primary calendar has already misplaced momentum, with some state celebration chairs just lately predicting to POLITICO that the celebration will punt the contentious query down the street.

Distinguished New Hampshire politicos from each events highlighted Gardner’s bulldog protection of the state’s primary in farewell statements — Gardner “fiercely shield[ing]” its standing was the very first thing GOP Gov. Chris Sununu famous in his assertion — and lots of stated they had been assured that his retirement wouldn’t imperil the state’s first-in-the-nation position.

Gardner is hardly the solely New Hampshire determine invested in the first primary — and politicians of each events are anticipated to defend it simply as furiously as he has.

“I believe that the 4 early states working along with our Republican counterparts and elected officers and RNC and DNC members and different events, I believe we now have a robust case to be made, and I believe finally profitable,” stated Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Get together. “Definitely, Invoice Gardner has performed a really distinguished public position in the final 44 years defending New Hampshire’s standing, but there was an unlimited quantity of individuals behind the scenes that may nonetheless be round.”

In the meantime, nationwide Republicans have proven a lot much less of an urge for food to vary the calendar than there’s been on the Democratic facet, with potential 2024 hopefuls already flocking to each Iowa and New Hampshire.

Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Get together, stated “the legal guidelines which Invoice helped shepherd by way of over the a long time give us a certain quantity of safety.”

“Definitely, the remainder of state authorities and his successors will probably be well-versed in the completely different levers and instruments which can be out there to them,” Cullen stated.

Nonetheless, Cullen acknowledged that forces exterior of any secretary of state’s management might undermine New Hampshire’s standing. “Finally, it’s the candidates who resolve whether or not New Hampshire has a first-in-the-nation primary and whether or not it’s significant,” he stated. “In the event that they hold displaying up, we’ll have one. And once they cease — as a result of they don’t assume it’s of their strategic pursuits or they don’t have a stage enjoying subject — that’s the way it ends.”


Gardner’s retirement signifies that Republicans will possible now management the workplace in the state. He stated on Monday that he could be succeeded by David Scanlan, a former Republican state legislator who has been deputy secretary of state since 2002.

Gardner has additionally clashed with Democrats in the state and nationally. The conservative Democrat joined a fee fashioned by then-President Donald Trump in 2017 that was supposed to chase voter fraud, which angered Democrats in the state and helped gasoline an intraparty problem that just about unseated Gardner in 2018. He appeared to defend his choice to sit down on that fee — and reiterated his criticism of Washington Democrats’ sweeping voting rights proposals — throughout his farewell press convention.

Your entire membership of the state legislature elects a secretary of state each different 12 months. Republicans backed Gardner throughout his contested reelection bid in 2018, and he ran unopposed in 2020. The GOP controls each chambers of the state legislature, that are each up later this 12 months.

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