Messing with New Hampshire’s primary could have consequences for Biden and the ballot, senator says

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BOSTON — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is warning that President Joe Biden could jeopardize his prospects — and those of down-ballot Democrats — in a key swing state by messing with New Hampshire’s presidential primary.

“The president could have had more diversity — which is the reason he gave for wanting to change the current order — he could have moved another state earlier without doing what he did to New Hampshire,” Shaheen said during a pre-taped appearance on “On the Record,” a Sunday politics show on ABC’s local affiliate in Boston.

“It’s unfortunate, because I think it has an impact [on] the independent voters who are very important in New Hampshire, and who are going to be very important to any reelection of the next president,” Shaheen said. “And it also has an impact on Democrats up and down the ticket.”

In a December letter to the Democratic National Committee, Biden called on the DNC to consider changing the calendar to ensure the nominating process reflects “the diversity of America.”

“For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” Biden wrote in the letter. “We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”

In February, the DNC voted to move South Carolina into the first slot on Feb. 3, followed three days later by New Hampshire, which has long held the first primary, and Nevada. (Iowa, which holds its caucuses before New Hampshire holds it primary, also would move back.) Republicans would maintain their current schedule.

Removing New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status could chase independent voters into the arms of the GOP, Shaheen cautioned Sunday. New Hampshire has open primaries, and undeclared voters are the largest share of registered voters in the state.

New Hampshire voters, particularly independents, are very engaged in elections, considering candidates on both sides of the aisle, Shaheen said.

“The fact that we would now discount their participation, I think, is unfortunate,” said Shaheen, who is not up for reelection until 2026. “And again, I think it has implications for Democrats in the state — hopefully not for the general election, but we don’t know that yet.”

Shaheen’s comments are the latest salvo in the bitter battle over changing the 2024 nominating calendar that’s pitted the state’s top Democrats against the president and the DNC.

New Hampshire Democrats have said they were blindsided and betrayed by Biden’s move to strip New Hampshire of its prized first primary and put South Carolina to the lead-off spot, and have publicly and privately fought both the president and the DNC on the matter.

Now the state is poised to go rogue and hold the first primary anyway. The DNC gave New Hampshire — and Georgia, which Biden wants to move up in the process — until early June to make the necessary adjustments to stay in the early state window. But Republicans who control the governor’s office and the legislature in New Hampshire are refusing to change the state law that requires its primary to be held a week before any others.

That puts Biden in a predicament of his own making. If he participates in an unsanctioned primary he risks violating party rules, which would likely impose sanctions on candidates or states in violation. (A Biden campaign aide said the president and his team would abide by any sanctions imposed by the DNC, if it gets to that point.)

But if Biden skips New Hampshire, he could cede the unofficial first contest to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and self-help guru Marianne Williamson, an outcome that’s unlikely to threaten his chances for renomination but that would still be an embarrassing start to the process.

Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) told POLITICO last week that she’s twice urged Biden to compete in New Hampshire.

“He should be on the ballot in New Hampshire. He’ll win handily,” she said. But even if he doesn’t, Kuster and other top Democrats believe he could win on a write-in campaign.