Panic last week on two fronts: Two major institutions dear to the hearts of political junkies everywhere were reported to be on the chopping block: the BlackBerry and the New Hampshire presidential primary. Calmer voices say that somehow the political Attention Deficit Disorder folks will find a way to e-mail 24/7 although we may be using a device named after some other fruit or vegetable.
But some are not so sure about the New Hampshire primary. Tinkering with the calendar is a congenital proclivity for Democrats suffering from losing-the White House-itis. And, this year, Democrats appear to want to kill, at least maim, the first-in-the-nation primary. Since New Hampshire law mandates that they must be the first primary this won't be an easy task but national Democrats are sounding mighty serious about changing the calendar this time.
"Democrats in 48 other states think that just maybe they should have a role in selecting the nominee," one national party official told me last week. "Why are should Iowa and New Hampshire so sacrosanct? There really are living rooms in other states. Trust me." (The party official insisted on anonymity in case she wishes to visit a New Hampshire living room some day.)
On Saturday, Dec. 10, when the Democratic Party commission meets in Washington, there will be a showdown over whether to keep Iowa and New Hampshire as is, let a few caucuses sneak in just before or after New Hampshire, or open the flood gates to a number of states not previously at the beginning of the calendar. The argument which appears to be carrying the day is to put some states which have more diverse populations than virtually all-white Iowa and New Hampshire in position to affect the choice of the nominee.
Despite the fight which is raging this week among Democrats, Hotline editor Chuck Todd says the battle may be for naught. "Of course, none of this will matter when Hillary rolls to the nomination with ease," he says. But, in fact, there is some backroom buzz that this is actually a "Hillary scheme," putting a lot of expensive states up front which will allow the well-heeled frontrunner to smash the little guys and make a quick kill. The scenario goes on that the junior Senator from New York and her husband, who has been referred to as the first black president, are a lot better known and liked in the these diverse states than, say, Evan Bayh or Mark Warner, and so the argument for diversity is really part of the Hillary steamroller.
While Democrats duke it out, Republicans are racing up to New Hampshire, claiming that their rules are set and they love the Granite State. Sen. Bill Frist, and Governors Mitt Romney and George Pataki are all scheduled to be in New Hampshire in December. However, there are some whispers that many Republican wannabes would love to have the Democrats diminish the importance of New Hampshire, a state which was McCain Country in 2000 and where he remains popular. And some Democrats think blowing up both McCain and New Hampshire is a win-win.
Even if a few more states squeeze onto the front of the calendar, New Hampshire is determined to hold on. And with the combination of reporters who are nostalgic for fake waterfalls and those wild nights at the Wayfarer bar with former Sen. Bob Smith and Thalia Schlesinger, the Republicans and that pesky New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner all working in concert, it may be impossible to count it out. New Hampshire Democrats have even surfaced Jimmy Carter and Jim Baker who advocate four regional primaries after Iowa and New Hampshire and warn that putting too many states too early is a bad idea.
Former CBS News Executive Political Director Martin Plissner wrote in his book "The Control Room: How Television Calls the Shots in Presidential Elections" that it was the networks that created the modern New Hampshire primary in 1964 mainly for their own competitive interests. The primary had been around since 1920 and had been drawing attention since 1952 "but not until 1964 did television go overboard." That year over 1,000 members of the media descended on the tiny state and in some cycles since then over 40 percent of the coverage of the presidential nominating process centered on the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Is it any wonder that a few other states might want that attention? But tradition is tough to fight and before we bid goodbye to New Hampshire we might want to think twice about those great miracle moments the New Hampshire primary has given us: George Romney (Mitt's dad, then governor of the enemy state of Michigan) saying in Detroit he was brainwashed into supporting the Vietnam War and then dropping out of the primary; Ronald Reagan claiming he "paid for this microphone;" Ed Muskie being emotional (note we didn't say cried) about the Union Leader newspaper; Gary Hart throwing an ax at exactly the right place; Bill Clinton becoming the Comeback Kid; Gary Bauer flipping himself off the stage; Pat Buchanan proclaiming that "the peasants are coming with their pitchforks;" and George Bush asking that trenchant question of Alan Keyes, "What's it like to be in a mosh pit?"
Could those things ever happen in Georgia, Nevada or New Jersey or Michigan?
By Dotty Lynch