New Hampshire Eyes Earliest-Ever Primary

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South Carolina's Republican state chairman says the state's GOP primary will be held Jan. 19. By law, that means first-in-the-nation New Hampshire must hold its primary no later than Jan. 12.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

South Carolina's Republican Party fired a shot across the bows of New Hampshire and Iowa this week. The Republican state chairman announced in New Hampshire, of all places, that his party will move up its primary date to January 19, which means the latest that New Hampshire can hold its primary is January 12.

We're joined now by Bill Gardner, who's been secretary of state for New Hampshire since 1976. He joins us from Manchester.

Thanks for being with us, Secretary of State Gardner.

Secretary BILL GARDNER (Secretary of State, New Hampshire): You're welcome. It's nice to be here with you.

SIMON: And, by law, what do you have to do?

Sec. GARDNER: The New Hampshire law requires that the primary be seven or more days ahead of any other state that has a similar election. Typically, the primary after New Hampshire has been the South Carolina primary.

SIMON: So if South Carolina suddenly decided that they wanted to hold their Republican primary on January 1, you, by law, in New Hampshire would have to schedule a New Hampshire primary a week before that.

Sec. GARDNER: Yes, seven or more days, yes.

SIMON: Have you been talking to the folks in Iowa and South Carolina for that matter? Is there some, I don't want to say, collusion, but what about coordination?

Sec. GARDNER: It's different depending on the cycle. Sometimes, some cycles had been sort of a formal relationship at one point. Years back, there was an Iowa and a New Hampshire commission of the group that would meet periodically. I'll be talking to the secretary of state. It's more informal now than formal.

SIMON: Now, Mr. Gardner, I'm sure you've heard the criticisms over the years that some people have of New Hampshire always being first in the nation because they think it invests an undeserved amount of emphasis and importance on a relatively small state that doesn't have some of the diversity that other states have.

Sec. GARDNER: Yes. Yes, I certainly have heard that, and yes.

SIMON: Well, you're a gentleman so you just nod your head, or is there any answer you have?

Sec. GARDNER: Well, it's an experience that is unique, and it goes back to the very beginning of the state. I mean, you may not be aware, a lot of - most people aren't, but the national party convention came from New Hampshire. It was a proposal that was made by the state of New Hampshire in 1831 that the country changed the way candidates for president get nominated.

SIMON: I didn't know that.

Sec. GARDNER: The shortest distance between the government and its citizens exist in this state because we have elections so often and we have so many offices. So many people in this state are allowed to be part of the government. It is something that's unique here. And, you know, there are special things in these different states in the country. There's a reason why Kentucky, for instance, has the Kentucky Derby. There's a reason why the Statue of Liberty is in New York Harbor. There's a reason. And it's likewise for the New Hampshire primary. There's a reason why it's here.

SIMON: Mr. Gardner, let me just ask you one more question, if I could. You've been elected secretary of state of New Hampshire 16 times. I don't think anybody knows more about how to win an election in New Hampshire than you must. Any advice to everybody running up there?

Sec. GARDNER: Well, you might be surprised, but I have never once had a fundraiser, ever. I've never taken a contribution in all the years that I've been in office. I...

SIMON: I heard that somebody knitted a vest for you once and you insisted on paying for the wool.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sec. GARDNER: Well, I don't go to candidate events. I don't go to party events. I don't endorse candidates. I just stay out. And the tradition in New Hampshire is that you run an election, you stay out of the election. So I'm not exactly the best one to answer that kind of question.

SIMON: Bill Gardner, secretary of state of New Hampshire. Thanks very much.

Sec. GARDNER: Thank you.

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