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John Kerry: Keep N.H. First

by Pamela Leavey

As I reported last night, the NH Union Leader reported that John Kerry “yesterday firmly opposed the national Democratic Party’s plan to dilute the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary’s traditional strong impact on Presidential politics.” Kerry wrote an OP/ED published in the Sunday Union Leader sharing his views on the importance of Keeping NH first:

John Kerry: Let’s keep NH first
Guest Commentary

RUNNING for President as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2004 was one of the proudest experiences of my life. But I fear that what my party is considering doing to the process by which we pick a nominee is harming our party by diminishing New Hampshire’s unique first-in-the-nation role.

I support Iowa and New Hampshire’s first-in-the nation status in our Presidential nominating process. The special role that Iowa and New Hampshire play in Presidential politics has strengthened our democracy by insuring that citizens at the grassroots engage directly with candidates for the Presidency. We should preserve the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in their traditional forms.

The process in New Hampshire is good for American politics. In New Hampshire, citizens open up their homes, their businesses and even their firehouses to gather friends and neighbors and grill the candidates on issues from health care to war and peace. I don’t believe I would have been half as prepared to stand on a stage and debate a sitting President had I not first gone through the crucible that is the New Hampshire primary.

The process tests you. It makes you better. Candidates become better listeners because they interact with voters in small venues and intimate settings across the state. They learn firsthand about the individual hopes and challenges of thousands of people whom they meet. When the process is over, they have become better qualified to serve the public. Likewise, voters get to know who they are voting for, what kind of person the candidate is, and what he or she really stands for.

New Hampshire’s reputation for grassroots politics runs deep. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike cast votes with extraordinary care, spending hours pouring over candidates’ records and traveling across the state in all kinds of weather to see candidates in action. They don’t have to rely on the opinions of pundits or the ability of a candidate to spend money on expensive TV ads. Voters have an opportunity to meet, debate, challenge and inform candidates for the highest office in the land, and they take full advantage of it. It does not make sense that the national Democratic Party would want to change this system of active citizen involvement.

One thing I have learned from running and being lucky enough to receive my party’s nomination is how critically important it is to be able to talk to people one-on-one and hear their real-life stories. Instead of jetting in for big, made-for-TV events on the airport tarmac or running multi-million dollar media campaigns full of sound-bites and special effects, candidates who compete in New Hampshire are directly confronted with the people’s concerns and questions face-to-face with nowhere to hide. There is no question in my mind that spending time in New Hampshire made me a better candidate and helped me to shape policies that would help people I met along the campaign trail.

We must have Presidents and Presidential candidates who have spent time in living rooms and community centers with voters and their families and who have had to work to earn the trust of voters through direct, unfiltered conversation. This dialogue produces better candidates and, ultimately, a better national debate.

Recently when I was in New Hampshire I was asked to comment on what the national party was doing. Let me reaffirm my answer. I strongly support Iowa and New Hampshire’s first-in-the nation status. Period. I have consistently supported Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status for as long as I have been involved in national politics. That’s why I am not in favor of the Democratic National Committee’s current plan to place a caucus event between Iowa and New Hampshire, nor am I in favor of placing a primary election during the seven days that immediately follow the New Hampshire primary. I think my party is making a mistake in trying to “fix” something that is not broken.

Gov. John Lynch, state Democratic Party Chair Kathy Sullivan and leading New Hampshire Democrats are working incredibly hard to educate party leaders and party members about the critical need to preserve New Hampshire’s primary. They make a strong and compelling case — one that national Democrats should heed.

John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, is the junior senator from Massachusetts.

One Response to “John Kerry: Keep N.H. First”

  1. I love this op-ed. It really makes a wonderful case for NH and Iowa. There’s been a lot said about how Iowa and NH do, to some degree, filter out candidates who are not ready to run or who are really the person in front of the focus group generated stump speech.

    I had never thought of the other side of it that Kerry describes which is how much it teaches and informs the candidates. I love how personally he described this.