Political Pulse March 2007

Irking New Hampshire

Changes in the presidential primary calendar will make New Hampshire more important than ever.
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MANCHESTER, N.H.—Two laws have just gone into effect. One moves California's 2008 presidential primary to February 5. The other governs the impact of that move: It's the law of unintended consequences.

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill advancing the date of his state's vote. "Talking about moving the presidential primary from June to February has already elevated California's status for the 2008 campaign," Schwarzenegger said. "Already, more candidates from both parties are coming out here to California, campaigning harder, campaigning more."

Even though New Hampshire's primary, tentatively set for January 22, will still be first, California's move is threatening to folks here. How can New Hampshire defend itself? One way is by emphasizing, "We're small." As Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta puts it, "The only way to have a conversation with a regular average person is in a state where retail politics is the norm, and it is demanded, and taken seriously."

People in New Hampshire also point out, "We're cheap." Guinta, a Republican, said, "If you have a California primary first, someone like Howard Dean would never be in the position he is in today. Someone like Bill Clinton probably never would have been president. Ronald Reagan, who took the New Hampshire primary seriously, may not have been president." And one more thing: New Hampshire voters are fully engaged. "People in New Hampshire take [their first-in-the-nation primary] seriously," Guinta said. "It's a badge of honor. It's the state sport." New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Sullivan had a slightly different take. "Skiing is our state sport," she said, "but politics certainly is a major hobby."

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William Schneider is the Cable News Network's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. His column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.

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