N.H.'s Pledge Of Allegiance

New Hampshire Democratic and Republican political leaders are pressing presidential candidates to sign a pledge not to campaign in any state that threatens the Granite State's position as the first state to hold a presidential primary.

There has been rush in many states to move up the date of their presidential primary elections in order to increase their clout with the candidates. Four years ago, Delaware moved its primary to four days after New Hampshire's.

In order to defend its No. 1 position, New Hampshire is asking prospective candidates sign a pledge not to campaign or allow declarations of their candidacy to be filed in any state holding its primary earlier than seven days after New Hampshire's..

So far, Viced President Al Gore, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri have signed the pledge.

New Hampshire law requires the primary to be held seven days before any other state's. Usually the primary is in late February. Often, the secretary of state waits until the last minute before setting a firm date.

"New Hampshire provides candidates with the opportunity to meet voters one-on-one in living rooms, where they live and work, and spend time in their communities," Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said. "It also levels the playing field and allows candidates without a large war chest or name recognition to get their message out."

National Democratic Party rules protect New Hampshire's right to hold its primary first; Republican Party rules offer no such guarantee.

This year, more than half the states are considering earlier primaries, with as many as 30 possible by mid-March. Among them is a group of eight Western states considering a regional primary.

New Hampshire's move "is a heavy-handed attempt intended to have a chilling effect on the Democratic process," said Delaware GOP chairman Basil Battaglia. "It would be arrogant for us to dictate to another state when they should have their elections."

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