So it may seem like asking a Granite Stater why New Hampshire should have the first in the nation primary is sort of like asking someone from the Windy City why they think Chicago makes the best pizza. However, the only way to really understand the benefits of New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary is if you have experienced it. I have. I supported and volunteered for Senator McCain in his presidential bid. He won me over during the NH primaries. I joke that I’m an ‘Unrepentant McCain Supporter’ because if I had it all to do over again even knowing the results I would – I don’t regret one moment of it. I still think he was worth it.
Yet I am not compelled to participate in the same manner as last time. However, I am compelled to defend the process. This is a unique element of our political process that is worth keeping. First, let me defend a somewhat accurate criticism of the process, “It’s not fair.” Honestly, it’s not completely fair that NH gets this opportunity when other states don’t. The problem is that the fixes to make it fair don’t work. New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina are the three places where candidates have to meet, talk to, and take questions from actual voters. A national primary day, often described as a fair solution, actually means that presidential contenders no longer have to meet and address voters directly. It would make the process very similar to the general election where candidates with money buy ads and saturate the airwaves with what many consider hollow self-serving sound bites. This doesn’t address fairness; it simply means candidates no longer have to deal with real voters in a meaningful way.
Which brings us to the crux of this issue, why is this part of the process needed and important. The New Hampshire primaries are an important test of the candidates. It’s a sincerity test; can this candidate look me in the eye and honestly tell me why he/she should be leader of the free world? It’s a competency test; can the candidate explain their positions competently and clearly without talking down to the voter, or over simplifying their message? Also, can the candidate deal with the crazy protester in the back that starts wildly yelling when all the protester needed to do was raise their hand and ask their question? It’s a test of empathy and compassion; when a voter who disagrees with a candidate nervously tries to get their question out, does the candidate mow them down, or do they hear them out and address the voter’s concerns? None of these things are adequately addressed via TV. Voters need to meet the candidates in person and this is the point in the process where that’s done.
So why does New Hampshire have the first primary and not other states? First, is tradition – not tradition for tradition’s sake, but tradition because of the level and sincerity of participation. Generation after generation has gone to town halls to test the candidates, and many Granite Staters accept it as a duty and responsibility. By and large, they participate in significant numbers, and they test the candidates in a sincere and responsible manner.
Many states think they want to move up in the primary process, but their citizens are not invested in the manner that Granite Staters are. Do they really want the campaign phone calls a year and a half before the general election? Do they really want to spend their Saturday driving to see a candidate at a town hall that they may find out does not actually suit them? States want the attention that could come from a jump forward in the process, but have not shown that their citizens actually want the responsibility.
Also, there’s a logistics issue when states try to move forward in the process. The more that try to move up, the earlier the vote gets, the more crowded the calendar gets, the more the primary process starts to mimic general election politics and that unique test of the candidates is either watered down or lost.
So if you want to say I am biased, you’re right. I’m a New Hampshire voter and I want to preserve our unique tradition. However, the reason I want to preserve this tradition is not so that I can say that I have something you don’t. I want to preserve this tradition because it significantly enhances the presidential political process. It does benefit New Hampshire, but more importantly it benefits the country. This is an important first hurdle that gives candidates short on money a shot, and stops candidates short on sincerity, ideas, and motivation in their tracks. Don’t let this part of the presidential process evaporate, no one benefits from that in the end.