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Biden’s electoral gaffe: Dissing New Hampshire

President Biden
Greg Nash
President Biden looks up during an event hosted by the Democratic National Committee at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, November 10, 2022 to thank staff and volunteers for their efforts during the midterm elections.

The Biden political team rearranged the next presidential primaries with one — and only one — consideration: to protect the incumbent in case of any challenge.

It’s a plan based on false premises, bad history and fraught with potentially unintended consequences.

The proposal, likely to be accepted by the White House controlled Democratic National Committee, would move South Carolina to the first primary in 2024.

The Palmetto state rescued Biden from a political grave last time with a landslide win, setting the stage for his nomination.

The plan then would squeeze the historic New Hampshire primary and Nevada — two states where Biden was clobbered last time — into a primary three days later, followed by big state primaries, Georgia and Michigan.

The rationale, according to the White House, is to give Blacks, a core constituency, a greater role in the Democrats’ nominating process.

The first two contests traditionally have been held in unrepresentative Iowa and New Hampshire. Both are more than 90 percent white.

Although I’ll miss visiting with two great Hawkeyes, journalist extraordinaire Michael Gartner and leading pollster Anne Selzer, Iowa now is solidly Republican (so is South Carolina) and made a mess of its caucuses in 2020.

But it’s simply not true to say the clout of Blacks has been undercut by these early contests. The nomination of the last three Democratic presidential candidates — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — were virtually settled by one state: South Carolina, where more than half the Democratic primary voters are Black.

In 2008, Obama had split earlier tests, losing New Hampshire; Clinton did the same in 2016. Biden fared worse and was written off as a goner after the first three contests. Then, with huge Black support, all three won South Carolina in a landslide, paving the way to the nomination.

As in baseball, the number three or number four hitter may be the most critical in presidential primaries. Aside from the aim of fending off any opposition to Biden, what would be the impact of this scheme be if he didn’t run?

New Hampshire, all the complaints about its whiteness and oldness notwithstanding, has earned its place as the first primary. That was established with a roar in 1952, when Granite State voters rebuffed President Truman in the Democratic primary and on the GOP side embraced a political newcomer, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The appeal is not the infallible judgement of the people of New Hampshire — they voted for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — but rather the premium on retail politics. More than any other primary, candidates spend real time with engaged voters.

There is no escape. From Manchester almost everything is no more than a little over an hour away, unless you want to go to the North country where there are more Moose than voters.

Typical was the weekend before the 2020 primary: packed crowds, sometimes stretching around the block, at a Nashua community center; at a Hudson high school gym; a town hall in Rindge, a Manchester restaurant, among other places.

It’s this retail politics that enables legendary comebacks. In the fall of 2007, John McCain’s presidential campaign was broke. In a series of New Hampshire house parties, backyard barbecues and any place he could find voters, he surged back. More remarkable, in the days before the 1992 Democratic primary, Bill Clinton was a dead man walking after a cabaret singer went public about their affair and the Wall Street Journal reported on how he evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. With an indescribable energy, Clinton campaigned around the clock — “until the last dog dies” — rebounding to a respectable second place.

More than any other, the primary is ingrained in the state, politically, economically and culturally. New Hampshire law requires it be the first presidential primary — whatever it takes, including losing delegates to the national convention.

There may be a cost for Democrats.

“Biden personally will wear this and pay a general election price,” ventures Tom Rath, the longtime New Hampshire Republican strategist, a view shared by some Democrats. Well, it’s only four electoral votes, right? In 2000, Al Gore narrowly lost those four electoral votes — which cost him the presidency.

In 2024, Biden — or any Democratic nominee — would start with the 303 electoral votes won last time. If the Democrats were to lose, say, Pennsylvania and Arizona or Michigan and Georgia, those four votes would be determinative.

New Hampshire has one other political asset: independents. Numbering more than registered Republicans or registered Democrats, they can vote in either primary. As more data comes in from last month’s midterms, it seems clear that independents, more than turnout of base voters, tilted several important races to Democrats. It’s a pretty good idea to address this constituency early.

A good and logical calendar is where New Hampshire is the first primary and South Carolina Blacks are in waiting to make any correctives.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Bernie Sanders biden 2024 Biden campaign Black voters caucuses delegates Democratic Party Democratic primaries Democratic primary Donald Trump Electoral College electoral vote count Electoral votes electors Independent voters Iowa Joe Biden Joe Biden presidential campaign Nevada New Hampshire New Hampshire primary presidential primaries South Carolina South Carolina primary

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