MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This coming week, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards are planning to be in New Hampshire.

BLOCK: Last week, it was the former mayor of New York City, Republican Rudolph Giuliani, who was in the Granite State.

SIEGEL: Live free or die and all that. It's a small state, but what's important here is that it is the home of the nation's earliest presidential primary.

BLOCK: But not so fast, there is a scramble on to move in on New Hampshire's turf. Other states are gunning for its place in the starting line up and the biggest interloper here is a player more than 16 times New Hampshire's size, California. We'll have more on that later.

SIEGEL: So primaries in the State of New Hampshire, in the State of California and in a state of flux. It's going to take some time for things to sort out. And we have some time, because the New Hampshire primary is still about a year away - about a year.

ART SILVERMAN: We don't know, Robert, exactly when.

BLOCK: NPR's Art Silverman is here with us, just back from the Granite State and, Art, a place you worked as a newspaper reporter 30 years ago. What did you learn this time?

SILVERMAN: Well, first I learned to bring better gloves and hat. But I also learned that the New Hampshire secretary of state can take the state's primary, stick far ahead of any other state he wants to. Iowa has this clause that says its caucus can go eight days earlier. But as far as other states, the secretary of state of New Hampshire can actually move the primary ahead of them.

SIEGEL: How long though can he wait until he fixes the date for the primary?

SILVERMAN: Right, he could wait until the end of the year. He can even decide to hold a 2008 New Hampshire primary in 2007, this year.

BLOCK: So really obvious candidates that are starting to file to New Hampshire are not too early at all.

SILVERMAN: Oh, no, no, not at all. And that brings me and you, by proxy, to the state capitol building in Concord. If you want to be president of the United States, this is where you have to start.

Park on Main Street. A quarter will buy you 30 minutes on the meter, might as well put two in for an hour. Stroll across the courtyard to the golden dome of the Statehouse, walked pass that statue of the 14th president of the United States, Franklin Pierce. You know, he's the only president New Hampshire ever gave the nation.

BLOCK: Art, you're forgetting one, you forgetting Jed Bartlet on "The West Wing."

SILVERMAN: Go in to the state capitol building. Ask the security guards where the secretary of state's office is.

Unidentified Man #1: 204, just take the elevator up, follow rooms around and take them the 204.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

BLOCK: Okay, we're getting close.

SILVERMAN: Let's take the stairs. The elevator is much too slow. Walk pass those handsome pictures of the past New Hampshire governors, those big oil paintings, with names like Ezekiel, Onslow, Ichabod, but they don't look very happy.

SIEGEL: Maybe it's because they were called Ezekiel, Onslow and Ichabod.

SILVERMAN: Take a left at the end of the hall there, and you go to the big brown table on your right, and ask Assistant Secretary of State Karen Ladd to tell you what to do next.

Ms. KAREN LADD (Assistant Secretary of State, New Hampshire): We have a declaration of candidacy form that you need to fill out, just your name, your address, your party affiliation and it's a $1,000 filing fee.

BLOCK: A thousand dollars and then you're on the ballot, right?

SILVERMAN: Yeah. And they take cash or check. You're on the ballot for the New Hampshire Primary.

BLOCK: But of course, as we said, we don't know exactly when that primary is going to be.

SILVERMAN: No, we don't.

SIEGEL: So, Art, why does New Hampshire always want to be first?

SILVERMAN: Good question. That's why I asked you in advance to be sure to ask me. Otherwise, it'd be hard to pivot here to my story, which begins now.

BLOCK: Okay.

SILVERMAN: Why is precisely what I went to New Hampshire to find out. At first, I thought it had something to do with all the money, all the attention. You know, state gets this every four years. But when I checked with the tourism people there, they said no, not so. The candidates, media don't bring that much money into the state.

BLOCK: Where did you go? Art you went to the state house, where did you go to try to find the answer to this pressing question?

SILVERMAN: Everybody said they had to stop at the Merrimack Restaurant. It's on Elm Street in Manchester, the largest city in the state. I went in there and I found Jane Davis. She's been a waitress at the restaurant for 23 years. And even back when she was in high school, she was meeting candidates. She met John Kennedy in the kitchen of her own home. And she still considers Bill Clinton like a best friend. And now, she's eager to get another front row seat and watch this year's procession begin.

Ms. JANE DAVIS: Joe Biden, not yet, Ms. Clinton no. Chris Dodd stopped in very briefly one day. Bill Richardson did stop by earlier, about a couple of months ago. John McCain was supposed to stop by, but something interfered, but he said he'd be back. We do have a candidate upstairs, however, which rented out space from us.

SILVERMAN: And that would be, of course, Illinois Republican John Cox.

SIEGEL: Who sends me e-mail, by the way.

SILVERMAN: Another reason people on the Granite State say they should have the primary, primary is history. They've done it for so long, so why change now?

BLOCK: Okay. So where did you go next?

SILVERMAN: I went to a place, get this, Liar's Paradise.

BLOCK: Excellent name.

SILVERMAN: Excellent name. And I got some really honest answers there. The store is in the town of Nottingham, New Hampshire. And I found out that while people on other states might recall their first love, first car, in New Hampshire, people like Gayle Pal(ph), a customer I found that Liar's Paradise, recall meeting their first candidate. I asked her about her first time.

Ms. GAYLE PAL: I got all these pins. I had a hat. I had everything. Do you want to hear about Nixon? Or Dewey? Or any?

BLOCK: Well, we do.

SILVERMAN: Of course, we do. Gayle Pal says she's now concerned that the Democratic Party, the National Democratic Party, had put Nevada's caucus ahead of her state. Pal says that's a bad move.

Ms. PAL: Think twice before you move this primary, because it's in the history of other states. But I think if you take us out, it's like taking a piece out of American values. Be very careful if you want to slice us out of the pie, because we do a big job here in sorting down the people that go through.

SILVERMAN: I also met another person in Liar's Paradise who defends New Hampshire being first in the nation. John Desmond says the state's people are in the best position to test the candidates.

Mr. JOHN DESMOND: We make up our minds without any influence from the outside. We're not looking to see what California did or what New York did or anything. We're making up our minds because of the people who have come here, or how we - how they've talked to us, how we've met them, we discuss the issues.

SILVERMAN: Oh, you guarantee that by not letting the other people come first, so you're -

Mr. DESMOND: Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely.

SILVERMAN: Another thing that is absolutely going to happen is that a man named Bill Gardner will uphold the state law.

Mr. BILL GARDNER (Secretary of State, New Hampshire): The primary will be on town meeting day, which will be the second Tuesday of March. However, secretary of state was given the authority to set the date to preserve the New Hampshire tradition.

SIEGEL: So the law actually says it will be in March. It's always earlier than it states in the law.

SILVERMAN: Yes, tied to the old traditional town meeting day, but it hasn't fallen on that date in a while, because he does this every four years.

BLOCK: Art, I've met Bill Gardner before. The keeper of the flame of New Hampshire's first in the nation status, he's the guy.

SILVERMAN: He's the guardian and he believes that absolutely. He's not just following the law. He talked passionately about keeping New Hampshire first. And the reasons why - when I talked to him, he sat me down and started by going way back to the colonial times to establish New Hampshire's instinct in checking things out very carefully.

Mr. GARDNER: That there's a place you go without the biggest bankroll or the - have held a national office. But you can walk in and pay your filing fee like everybody else, get on the ballot and have a chance.

SILVERMAN: That' s noble answer from New Hampshire's Secretary of State Bill Gardner. But the best answer I got the whole time I was up there to why should New Hampshire get to be the first state to hold the presidential primary was given to me by an old friend. She said the state she keep its place as the first primary because it wants to so much. And that I figured was as good as any reason I heard.

BLOCK: Why not?

SIEGEL: Very essentially political explanation. Thank you.

NPR's Art Silverman. And thank you for bringing us back in New Hampshire presidential primary election application form.

BLOCK: Which we'll fill out when we have time.

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