Want first primary? New Hampshirites won't stand in way

The Baltimore Sun

Here we go again. Michigan has joined Florida and South Carolina to become the latest to muscle in on New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation turf in an effort to reduce the influence this cold, flinty state has in deciding who makes it to the Oval Office.

Talk is of a Jan. 15 primary, though Michigan's Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, favors Jan. 8. This means Granite Staters would cast their ballots sometime between polishing off the last of the Christmas eggnog and toasting the New Year, all because the New Hampshire constitution requires the presidential primary be held a week before any others.

You know what?

They can have it.

As a longtime resident of the Granite State who has witnessed five of these spectacles over the years, all I can say is: Go ahead.

Most of the people I know in New Hampshire would love another state to go first for a change.

The people who call the state home are not a bunch of dumb, rural yokels but complex and diverse just like folks in other states: Most of us are too darn busy living our lives to pay much attention to the parade of yahoos who tromp all over the state for the better part of four years. That's right, four years, not just a few months before primary day.

Though we may not be listening to their sound bites, the nonstop circus easily drowns out other stories and topics of substance, not just in the news but also in conversations with friends and strangers. And that means we rarely hear about the stories that matter locally, because New Hampshire reporters are too busy chasing third-rate candidates all over the state because of our misplaced sense of self-importance.

But wait, it gets worse. The last month before the fateful day brings a nonstop barrage of political ads, rallies, stuffed mailboxes, phone calls and overly caffeinated volunteers. And don't forget about the roadside signs. In some small towns, the signs outnumber the population several times over. The smart ones use them for target practice.

New Hampshire is a state where 43 percent of registered voters are independent, able to vote in either party's primary. I'd guess that a good number deliberately choose this designation because once you register for either party, you are deluged by phone calls and junk mail sent by every major and minor candidate leading up to the crucial date. Remaining undeclared cuts down on a lot of the noise and excess paper.

So please, take our primary, because much as the first-in-the-nation boosters would vehemently deny it, the end results are skewed anyway. There are three categories of people who pay more than cursory attention to the primary by showing up at events, donating money or volunteering. They are: a) retirees, b) college students and c) rabid party politicos. They are not representative of the people I know, who have more important things to do with their time than attend political fundraisers - such as working two or three jobs and raising a family. And many retirees and college students have only lived here a short time and don't hold the same views or values as the longtimers and natives.

In fact, maybe the candidates would be more candid in a warmer climate, because they wouldn't be standing outside on a blustery, 15-degree day trying to act all warm and folksy while really they're stingily parceling out sound bites straight from their Web sites because they're freezing their butts off and are thinking of nothing more than getting back onto a toasty campaign bus.

If some other state doesn't leapfrog us, things will only get worse: The 2004 New Hampshire primary took place Jan. 27, and the 1996 contest fell on Feb. 20. If this petty chess game continues, in a couple of decades, the New Hampshire primary will fall during October's foliage season, which means leaf-peeping tourists will be duking it out with candidates, their entourages and an international press corps for space in inns, restaurants and highways. And that's more than a year before the national election.

A lot of us up here in the Granite State would love to see how another state handles it - or fudges it. We bet that they'd be happy to give it back four years later, if not sooner.

Lisa Rogak is the author of more than 40 books, including "Barack Obama In His Own Words." She has lived in New Hampshire for 20 years. Her e-mail is lisarogak@gmail.com.

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