Radio Free NH: Do We Deserve the First-in-the-Nation Primary?

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Michael Davidow

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire

I’m not sure if our state ever deserved to hold the first-in-the-nation primary. It took root because nobody cared, like a dandelion by the side of your driveway. It goes all the way back to the 1920’s, but it didn’t really matter to anyone until the 1950’s, when it gave a solid boost to Dwight Eisenhower and thereby made the news. Then the candidates came running.

But what came to us by accident is now being taken away by design. Joe Biden is a sore loser and having lost badly a few years back, he wants to reward South Carolina with the first primary instead. He says that South Carolina better reflects the national vote.

That’s a polite way of saying that it has more people of color, which is undeniably true. Which means that it better reflects the national vote of the Democratic party, at least; which means that Mr. Biden seeks to double down on keeping the Democratic party in its present lane, rather than seeking growth; which means that he seeks to double down on keeping this country as divided in the future as it seems right now.

It has also been noted that South Carolina’s size makes it far more difficult for unknown or minor candidates to break from the pack as they can presently do in both Iowa and New Hampshire; that a South Carolina primary will largely reward money and name-recognition, thereby benefiting… people like Joe Biden.  

I would not mind them taking New Hampshire’s primary away from us if they had a decent plan in mind, for better financing political campaigns rather than just rewarding the fat cats; for better appealing to all types of voters and not just playing the increasingly dead-end game of bitter identity politics; if doing so wasn’t a slap, open and public, at what New Hampshire actually represents: far from being a mindless clump of white middle-class duffers, we are a restless mess of independent voters, always happy to take what we’ve been given and toss it away in favor of something different.

I make that last claim because it is both surprisingly and gratifyingly true. It’s not just colorful Yankee propaganda. We actually aren’t quaint (that would be Vermont), and apart from bits of Manchester and Dover, we aren’t that gritty either (that would also be Vermont) (just kidding, Vermont). But we are devoted to the outside game.  

New Hampshire’s history, for those who don’t know it: for years and years, this state was run by the railroads, the power companies, and the racetrack. Those entities paid the bills and got whatever they wanted in return. And they got it from the Republican party for one whole century. The working-class ethnic votes of our state’s bigger cities could never get their acts together enough to empower the Democrats (the Irish and the French had a bad tendency to snub each others’ candidates) so the GOP pretty much ran this place for decades.

And as can happen with one-party states, by the grace of God and the law of centrifugal force, that one party eventually found itself home to a broad range of opinion, from the reactionary ugliness of boobs like Styles Bridges to the accidental liberalism of political wanderers like Charles Tobey (who even when standing alone encompassed a broad range of opinion). There was never one school of Republicanism here, in other words; our Republicans embodied multitudes.

Then, when that Republican monopoly faltered, from having so many newcomers in the south on the one hand, and from the national Republican party’s going so berserk, on the other, our state’s resulting mix of fiscal conservatives, social liberals, barking dogs, middle-of-the-roaders, libertarians, stone and rock farmers, crabapple experts, stock Democrats, and certified lunatics combined to make our population decidedly purple in hue: which is the only color that counts these days in our national debate.

That purple hue, however, complete with its unlikely pedigree, has historically done nothing but cause misery for party hacks on both sides; and it’s those same party hacks who are now trying to decide where and when we vote. It just happens to be the Democrats who are voicing their institutional unhappiness with us today. Quite honestly, it could just as easily be the Republicans. We’ve stuck our thumb in their eye often enough too.

I know our politicians are fighting this, but if we lose that battle, let’s just hope that whoever takes our place does as good a job as we have. Because strangely enough, we were pretty good at it.  

Davidow writes Radio Free New Hampshire for He is also the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project,  The Book of Order, and The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Davidow’s Chanukah Land can be found here.

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