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A Brief for New Hampshire

Retail politics need to be preserved as much as possible. Nashua is a city of close to 90 thousand residents and there is primary history around nearly every corner. In front of City Hall is where JFK had his very first campaign rally. That is six blocks from the gymnasium where Ronald Reagan famously stated that he paid for the microphone in a debate. A 30 minute drive north to Manchester is where more history has unfolded. Ed Muskie crying in front of the offices of the Union Leader comes to mind.

This weekend is usually a mad rush by the all of the candidates to cover as much ground as possible to interact with as many voters as they can.

Why do I write this? Well everyone seems to want to have a more diverse state go first and its a better representation of America as a whole. I think this is the wrong. If Illinois or California were to become the first to go just think of all the money that would have to be raised in order to compete in those states. This would only exacerbate the need for more money in politics.

I know I have a biased view because I live here. I just want to say in times where norms are being challenged everyday can’t we keep NH as the first in the nation primary? Lets honor the history even though NH only holds only 24 delegates that are needed towards the 1990 needed for the nomination.

I continue to believe it is a travesty that these two overwhelmingly white and largely rural and exurban states have such a massive impact on our nomination process. But I don’t entirely discount JS’s point and I don’t think you should either. Big states like California or Illinois or even Pennsylvania are inevitably dominated by TV and money. Even in a hypothetical public finance campaign world they’d still be dominated by the 30 second TV ad. The kind of in-person retail politics JS describes is important, though I might need some more time and better arguments to explain just why.

But there are other states.

Iowa is 85% non-hispanic white and New Hampshire is 90% non-hispanic white. The country as a whole is 60% non-hispanic white. But consider just down the road in Rhode Island.

It is far and away the smallest state by geography — very easy to get around. It’s still whiter than the country at large at 72% but it has a dramatically larger minority population: 15.9% Hispanic, 8.4% Black, 3.6% Asian. Beyond the ways we see diversity today, there’s also a big immigrant tradition. There’s a big Italian-American and Portuguese-American population. And if all that weren’t enough, it’s dominated by one large city, Providence.

Large is relative of course. Providence is just under 200,000 residents. So it’s a small to medium sized city. But it’s a real city and it’s the center of gravity around which the whole state revolves (trust me, I used to live there.)

Now, Rhode Island is a weird state (again, I lived there). It was built on cast offs and exiles. No state is a perfect microcosm. But to the extent we don’t want to lose this small state retail politics, Rhode Island has all that in spades. It’s also much more diverse and also much more Democratic. There’s also Delaware: 62% white, 23% African-American, 10% Hispanic. Wilmington’s a bit low energy. But hey, no state is perfect!

The point is there is a value to retail politics. But we do have other options.

About The Author


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.