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Gardner vows to protect N.H. primary status

By CASEY JUNKINS - City Editor | Dec 27, 2018

NASHUA – Secretary of State Bill Gardner hopes he can protect New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary from a Golden State sunburn, as California is making a major play for the attention of candidates heading into the 2020 race.

Gardner told The Telegraph he probably will not set the date for the 2020 presidential primary until at least September. He said reports by some national media outlets that the Granite State’s primary has been scheduled for Feb. 11, 2020 are inaccurate.

“They didn’t get that from me,” Gardner said. “I’ve never wanted to set a date and then have to change it.”

Gardner said there is a possibility Granite State voting could take place as early as December 2019 to ensure New Hampshire is indeed the first-in-the-nation primary. This does not count Iowa because, although its contest may precede New Hampshire’s, Iowa uses the somewhat different caucus system in lieu of a regular primary.

“It is hard to say,” Gardner said of a December voting date. “I do have the authority to make it that early.”

Gardner said he will not let anyone in Washington, D.C. tell him when to schedule the primary. This includes officials with both the Democratic and Republican National committees.

“I never have. Everybody knows that,” Gardner said when asked if he will let national power brokers establish the schedule for New Hampshire’s primary.

Recently re-elected to the post he has maintained since 1976, Gardner said he is determined to make sure New Hampshire’s primary remains a key contest in determining presidential nominees.

“There have been all kinds of different attempts by states to interfere with this tradition through the years,” Gardner said. “This cycle will mark the 100th anniversary of us being first. We’re not going to just give it up to some other state that has more people, or more money, or more clout.”

The California issue

Despite California’s position as the nation’s largest state with nearly 40 million people (and 55 Electoral College votes), decades have passed since the state last played a major role in determining a president. This is true for both the general election and the primary.

In 2016, the California presidential primary did not take place until June 7 – four months after New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 event.

However, officials in delegate-rich California have scheduled their 2020 primary for March 3. Also, the Golden State allows early voting to begin as many as 29 days prior to the election date. This means presidential ballots could be cast in California in early February 2020.

This is particularly interesting because one of the early frontrunners for the Democratic nomination is U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who would be expected to fair well in her home state.

Also, Gardner acknowledges the concept of campaigning in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco may simply be more appealing to candidates (and their staffers) than doing so in Nashua, Manchester and Concord.

“They’re saying some of these people may not even come to New Hampshire this time,” Gardner said. “Based on my experience, that would be a serious mistake.”

Primary Opportunities

“New Hampshire presents the stage for the underdog to make a run,” Gardner said. “You don’t have to have the most fame or the most fortune to win this primary.”

According to Gardner, the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., attended 110 town hall-style meetings in New Hampshire on his way to winning the state’s 2000 Republican primary.

“Jimmy Carter spent the night in 70 different homes throughout the campaign,” Gardner said of the future president’s efforts in New Hampshire on his way to winning the state’s 1976 Democratic primary.

Gardner said he believes New Hampshire’s large state legislature – with 400 representatives and 24 senators – allows the typical Granite State voter to be more politically astute than those from some other states.

“We have more elections here than any other state in the country,” Gardner said. “We have more people, per capita, who have run for or held office than any other state.”

Gardner said from 1920 through 1972, New Hampshire’s primary took place in March. From 1976 through 2000, it was in February, while from 2004 through 2012, it moved to January. The primary did return to February in 2016.

In addition to establishing the primary date, Gardner also gets to determining the filing dates. He said this typically lasts two weeks.

Though Gardner may get pressure from one political party or the other about when to schedule the primary, he said both sides must receive equal treatment because Democrats and Republicans vote on the same day.

“That is the tradition,” he added.

Harris is only one of numerous potential Democratic contenders, with others reportedly in the running to include a pair of candidates from states which border New Hampshire: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

As for the Republicans, outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich seems to inch closer to challenging President Donald Trump by the social media post.

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