Today, the 100th anniversary of the creation of the New Hampshire presidential primary, is a day for all of the Granite State to celebrate. It would be a day for much of the rest of the nation to celebrate, too, if they understood the benefits to the nation of New Hampshire’s great presidential tradition.
The law that created the primary was called the “Bullock Act.” Passed and signed into law on the same day (May 21, 1913), it let the people vote directly on party delegates to national political conventions. That was a huge reform at the time, one that transferred political power from party bosses to the people.
This practice remained in place until 1952, when a new revision allowed Granite Staters to vote directly for their preferred presidential candidate, creating the primary as we know it today. That year, Granite Staters chose Sen. Estes Kefauver over President Harry Truman in the Democratic presidential primary, prompting Truman not to seek a second term.
For decades, our presidential primary has been the target of jealous politicians in other states. They want the national political clout (and, to a lesser extent, the money) that comes with the First in the Nation status. What they all fail to (or pretend not to) understand is why the New Hampshire primary has become this great, fabled thing. It is not simply New Hampshire’s status as the first primary state (secured by state law in 1975). It is that New Hampshire remains true to the spirit that was embodied in that 1913 law by closely connecting presidential candidates with the people who vote for them.
No other state in the Union has New Hampshire’s tradition of self-government, which gives voters an extraordinary level of political experience and knowledge, as well as the infrastructure that forces candidates into the small-scale retail political campaigning that manifests itself in numerous direct interactions with the voters.
No other presidential election contest comes close to putting the candidates into face-to-face contact with as many voters as the New Hampshire primary does. That is a tradition worth protecting. Granite Staters would best celebrate its anniversary by recommitting themselves to defending it against all pretenders.