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Democrats Continue to Be in Disarray Over 2024 Primary Schedule

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

In recent weeks, the DNC has been putting together its plan for a new primary system come 2024. Because states like Iowa and New Hampshire are not considered diverse enough by the Democratic Party, they're poised to lose their first-in-the-nation status for caucus and primary, respectively. This has led to Democrats in disarray and particular outrage among New Hampshire Democrats, as previously covered.

While Democrats are looking for positive alternatives by making South Carolina the first in the nation, it's not to appease Iowa and New Hampshire. Rather it stems from claims that granting South Carolina such a status is a result of political favors. President Joe Biden winning the state in March 2020, after a slew of disappointing finishes in other states, with the help of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), helped solidify his nomination.

New Hampshire Democrats continue to step up the criticism of their own party, though. POLITICO obtained a December 20 letter from Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, addressed to DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison. 

To begin the four-page letter, Buckley addresses requirements for the state to participate in the pre-window lineup, which he says, with original emphasis, "Simply no reasonable recourse for New Hampshire Democrats to comply, and could harm Democrats' 2024 electoral prospects across the board in this critical battleground state."

While Buckley emphasizes that he shares the view of how Democrats "must honor the diversity of the Democratic Party," he also argues that the DNC proposal could have met that goal while also retaining New Hampshire's status, adding this "would safeguard a battleground state for Democrats and maintain an important process for our country." With original emphasis, he points out, "These did not have to be mutually exclusive."

In addition to making the case that New Hampshire will play a critical role in 2024, as it did in 2020 and with last month's midterm elections, a theme expressed throughout the letter is how New Hampshire voters will be "penalized."

One subheadline, for instance, addresses "The DNC's Undue Burden on NH Democrats, Punishment of NH Voters."

Language from the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee laid out rules that New Hampshire must comply with, which entail signed letters from the governor, Majority Leader of the New Hampshire Senate, and Majority Leader of the New Hampshire House of Representatives stating that they intend to make all changes necessary so as to hold the Democratic state-run primary on February 6, 2024. This also entails "expand[ing] access to early voting."

In addition to arguing that the "proposal for the New Hampshire primary suggests New Hampshire Democrats do not have any option but to be in non-compliance and is essentially a poison pill for our primary," Buckley warns that the "provisions would effectively end the New Hampshire primary as we know it, removing it from the pre-primary window for the foreseeable future and depriving voters of a deliberative presidential process that prioritizes retail, face-to-face politics on a level playing field."

Buckley's complaint mentions that the state is governed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has called the proposal "dead on arrival," and that the Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley is also against it. The state House is under Republican control as well. 

Essentially, Buckley appears to be throwing in the towel. "With these declarations, there is nothing that the New Hampshire Democratic Party can do to comply with the DNC's demands." He argues that this could push away New Hampshire's independent voters, who make up 40 percent of the electorate. 

In a part of the letter that perhaps captures Democrats in disarray best, Buckley writes that independents being pushed away will lead to consequences for the Democratic Party. "Democrats will deliver a self-inflicted blow that Republicans will use to court voters over the next two years," he says. "Republicans have already started blaming Democratic leadership for New Hampshire losing its First-in-the-Nation primary and touting the GOP as the only party who cares about Granite Staters. With the close nature of presidential elections, that will needlessly jeopardize four critical electoral votes in this battleground state."

Buckley goes on to write that "given the Republican trifecta in our state government, this proposal is also a non-starter" when it comes to expanding early voting. 

The letter also seems to argue that New Hampshire is being unfairly punished. "It is worth asking why New Hampshire was the only state that was asked to change its voting laws, especially when the other proposed states for the pre-primary window also have limits on voting." In fact, according to statistics that Buckley cites, New Hampshire had higher turnout rates than other proposed first-in-the-nation states. 

If New Hampshire is indeed being punished over its voting laws, perhaps Buckley now knows how Georgia was unfairly maligned last year with the passage of its election integrity laws. It's worth reminding that those laws led to record turnout in the state

Buckley's letter concludes by expressing a sense of optimism about working together. "It is our hope that the people of New Hampshire are not penalized by arbitrary and unfair requirements placed on them by the DNC, and that these requirements do not punish our Democratic delegation and President Biden in the elections to come. We look forward to working with you to find a solution that honors the spirit of President Biden's vision for a diverse, thoughtful Democratic primary process."

In an NBC News write-up about New Hampshire voter discontent, Natasha Kotecki on December 18 highlighted Sununu's "dead on arrival" declaration but also overall voter discontent. "'How dare he?' New Hampshire seethes at Biden's planned changes to the 2024 Democratic presidential primaries," her headline read. 

At one point, she wrote:

The proposed change, already endorsed by a Democratic National Committee panel, isn’t merely a reshuffling of states in a presidential calendar. To the people of New Hampshire, it’s a deep disturbance to the political soul of the “live free or die” state, where restaurant workers not only can tick off a list of presidents they’ve met but recount which ones will look you in the eye.

At the forefront of discontent with the DNC's proposal has been New Hampshire's congressional delegation, made up of Democrats, which involved the boycott of the White House congressional ball earlier this month. More recently, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, as well as Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas co-authored an op-ed for The Boston Globe, "Keep New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary."

Shaheen and Hassan have continued to speak out about New Hampshire being able to maintain its status, including through a joint appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," during which Buckley's letter was discussed. 

"Ever since Granite Staters pushed to bring the nominating process out of back rooms and into neighborhoods, New Hampshire has gone first and really vetted candidates on an equal basis, regardless of war chests or name recognition," Hassan said. 

Shaheen pointed out that the process has been around for "100 plus years" in "creating a culture where voters really engage in elections," with Shaheen also emphasizing the importance of independent voters when it comes to how "that kind of vetting is really important to the process." 

The DNC looks to be trying to desperately cover up its disarray. In a press release from December 20, the same day that Buckley's letter to Harrison was addressed, the DNC highlighted op-eds from the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin and Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis expressing support for the process. 

"In case you missed it, Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin and Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis, both members of the DNC's Rules & Bylaws Committee whose states applied but were not chosen for early window waivers, wrote into their local papers to express support for the committee's recent vote to change the Democratic primary nominating calendar," the press release noted. 

The op-eds came on December 19 for the Duluth News Tribune and December 13 for the Baltimore Banner, respectively. 

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