In the midst of an internal party conflict that has heightened tensions between members and the Biden administration, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is scheduled to meet once again to review the status of the 2024 New Hampshire primary.
The Rules and Bylaws Committee, a regulatory body with power over the early state process, could consider long-awaited proposed changes to the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation designation Thursday.
The meeting is mired in unknowns. Could there be a concerted push for another extension or a write-in effort? Will officials make a play for a party-run primary? Uncertain what to expect, Democrats are bracing for a variety of possibilities.
“It’s so, so shortsighted,” Cullen Tiernan, a labor advocate based in Concord, said about the DNC’s proposed reshuffle, airing frustration that many activists have shared leading up to Election Day.
The process has been complex and drawn out, becoming an increasing point of contention between President Biden’s allies, local leaders and even the president’s Democratic rivals who want to protect the 1920s voting tradition.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Biden’s direct Democratic opponent and one of the leading voices raising concerns over the New Hampshire primary, sees the process as unfairly skewed towards getting the incumbent president nominated.
In an interview with The Hill, Dennis Kucinich, a former longtime Ohio congressman and presidential contender now serving as Kennedy’s campaign manager, outlined what he believes is most problematic for New Hampshire playing out in a chaotic fashion.
“The DNC itself is affiliated with tunnel vision,” Kucinich said. “They’re thinking only of the primary and trying to lock in President Biden’s constantly eroding position. And as a result, they’ve overlooked what ought to be the first and foremost concern, and that is New Hampshire’s four electoral votes.”
New Hampshire has only a handful of electoral votes to help round out a candidate’s pathway towards victory. But in a close contest, some Democrats believe that the likely early primary demotion could have an unintended consequence for their side in November.
“This is literally playing with fire,” Kucinich added. “It reveals an alarming shortsightedness and almost a craven indifference.”
The DNC has stipulated that all states need to formally apply for their status this cycle, even those that have historically competed early. While Democrats elsewhere in places like Iowa and Nevada have made their displeasure known, New Hampshire Democrats have been the most vocal against the national party’s new posture.
Over months of meetings and public discord, New Hampshire leaders have consistently noted that their early voting privilege is written into state law and should be exempt from the DNC’s proposed changes. The disagreement has been unsettling for Democrats who otherwise support Biden and want to see him secure the White House for a second time.
The Rules Committee noted that it intends to “continue its review of state 2024 National Convention Delegate Selection plans, including plans deferred at the last meeting” in a release, but multiple Democratic sources said they were unaware of more specific details.
While New Hampshire Democrats don’t know exactly what to expect from the meeting, they do believe that their primary will go on as planned, even if the lead-up is murky.
We “fully intend to have the primary, of course,” said Colin Booth, communications director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “It’s a state-run primary. It’s something that the secretary of state sets.”
“We plan to be in full compliance with state law,” he said.
While the concerns have gotten some airtime and annoyed Biden and his allies, top party officials stress they are confident that their push won’t ruin things for the president’s reelection effort. They view their lobbying to be separate from Biden’s campaign and have overwhelmingly backed him, maintaining the motivation to keep former President Trump away is paramount.
“Without a doubt President Biden will be renominated in Chicago by acclamation,” Ray Buckley, New Hampshire’s veteran Democratic Party chairman who has been supportive of Biden, told The Hill.
“His presidency has accomplished such historic success across the board that he will be greeted with a hero’s welcome,” he said.
Buckley has seen scores of Democrats come and go as voters have flexed their vetting power year after year. Although Biden came behind neighboring state Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and other candidates during the last primary election, Democrats didn’t need any convincing that he was the right candidate in the general election.
That loyalty has endured during his first term, even as he struggles to break out of his roughly 40 percent approval ratings at the national level.
“Joe Biden will win the primary whether his name is on the ballot or not,” Buckley said, alluding to the idea that he may not actually appear as a candidate and could be considered a write-in.
Like many swing state Democrats, Buckley emphasized that New Hampshire Democrats are more concerned with things like women’s rights — which they say have come under attack under GOP Gov. Chris Sununu — public education and protecting norms around democracy after Jan. 6, 2021. Buckley added that he’s much less focused on “what a group of D.C. insiders are doing” in regard to the rules gathering in Washington.
The kerfuffle around the DNC’s rules debate has nonetheless been noticed beyond the Beltway for months. The grumbling started in earnest when national officials embraced Biden’s push for South Carolina to replace Iowa and New Hampshire last December, prompting an outcry from others who vowed to press on for their traditional slots.
Biden allies and others saw it as one step towards adding more diversity to the primary, and while many New Hampshire Democrats see that side, they are also upset with what they perceive as a disregard of their history. Their persistence has meant bumping heads with the White House in the process.
“The mere pretense of it is astonishing,” said Kucinich. “It could cost the Democrats the presidency. There’s four electoral votes, and in a close election, New Hampshire can make the difference. It’s fundamentally wrong.”
While many in the party downplay Kennedy’s concerns, the presidential candidate is not the only Democrat in the running who’s upset. Marianne Williamson, a spiritual author also primarying against Biden, has been consistent in her condemnation of the way the DNC conducts the business of primaries — from the changing calendar to the lack of debates.
Off the campaign trail, the debate has even stretched to the halls of Congress. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has lobbied to make sure New Hampshire is one of several contests that’s allowed to vote early.
“Ro has been pushing for a solution to make sure that New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan are all in the early state lineup given the current state laws,” Khanna’s campaign spokesperson told The Hill.
Khanna has been to the state numerous times in recent months, simultaneously pitching Biden’s reelection campaign and a populist economic argument. He “hopes there can be consensus” around the early order, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, multiple sources also said they are concerned about how the change in order may upend other ballots, including local races that are expected to impact the state’s day-to-day governing.
Democrats have consistently tried to nudge enough voters who are on the sidelines and lean independent to vote blue, and have been successful in that regard. In 2022, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) won reelection against Trump-aligned Don Bolduc after speculation that her Senate seat may flip red. And Rep. Chris Pappas won New Hampshire’s 1st District over Karoline Leavitt, who is now a spokesperson for Make America Great Again Inc.
But Democrats stress there’s no guarantee that the state will continue to trend blue. Fears over potential implications for Biden and down-ballot candidates have persisted as the DNC has met several times to discuss rules changes.
“Wait a minute,” Kucinich warned. “This isn’t only about a primary. This is about a general election.”