August 3, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Primary myths
By Dan Szczesny

I think it’s time to be honest about the New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Many of the traditional arguments in favor of it are tired, worn-out and don’t make any sense outside the realm of our own-self interest. Never mind that in many ways our population and our economy are not representative of the nation in any way whatsoever. What about simple manners? Why should we always get to go first?

Ask a New Hampshire primary supporter, and generally the answer you get is, “Well, because we’ve always been first!” This kind of thinking, which brings to mind Escher diagrams, is just silly. But no one seems to realize this in New Hampshire, where such silliness is actually written into law.

Consider the law requiring the Secretary of State to set the date of the primary a minimum of one week before any similar contest. What a dopey law! We might as well pass a law requiring New Hampshire to be, say, the first place that Cher appears in her next final farewell tour. And what happens if legislators in, say, Montana, pass a law requiring their Secretary of State to schedule the Montana presidential primary two weeks prior to New Hampshire’s primary? Such a law would be absurd, right? No more absurd than the one that some prominent Granite Staters take so seriously.

How about the argument that the New Hampshire primary allows candidates to compete in a small state where they can make personal connections with the voters? That might be a good thing, but why does this only work in New Hampshire? Other states are smaller, either in population or geography. Doesn’t the “small is good” logic work for Wyoming or Vermont or Rhode Island?

Plus which, it’s an outright falsehood to think that money does not influence the New Hampshire primary. Just ask the sales department at WMUR-TV how much campaign advertising money flows into their palatial state-of-the-art studio, funded in part by revenues from past New Hampshire primaries and the scads of political advertising now generated by any significant election in the Granite State.

The money is one reason local media speak with one voice in support of the primary. The other is the prestige of covering the event—if we didn’t have the primary, the decision-makers at the Concord Monitor and other small dailies wouldn’t be breaking bread with presidential wannabes.

For most of the often-endless primary season, the only people who really pay attention to what a candidate has to say in New Hampshire are political junkies, many of whom are on the make and hankering for jobs in their candidate’s future administration. It could be argued that rather than help the Granite State, the first-in-the-nation causes such a distraction and takes up so much time of our homegrown political establishment that local issues get short shrift. Also, the need to protect our primary’s crumbling first-in-the-nation status is getting in the way of a free and frank discussion of the issues. When no major candidate has the courage to speak or act against a little state’s self-interested agenda, how honest can we expect them to be about issues that really matter?


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