As New Hampshire braces for another wave of White House hopefuls next year seeking votes in the first-in-the-nation nominating primary, much of the credit for the state’s hold on that position goes to one man: Secretary of State William Gardner. For the past four decades, Gardner has outmaneuvered states including Florida and Nevada to protect the front-runner spot mandated by New Hampshire law – and it has not always been easy. The state has steadily moved forward its primary, originally held in March. It shoe-horned the past two contests into January. Ask Gardner when the 2016 primary, which marks the 100th anniversary of the event, will be held and he smiles, careful not to limit his options. “I have never set the date and then changed it,” said Gardner, 66. “I wait until I feel it’s safe to do it and then I do it.” But the early January primaries of 2008 and 2012 were unpopular with Democratic and Republican officials, who worried that Americans were paying more attention to holiday parties than to candidates barnstorming New Hampshire and Iowa, whose citizens kick off nominating season with caucuses.
This time around, observers said, it is unlikely that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be showing up at diners in Manchester or town meetings in the White Mountains between Christmas and New Year’s next year.
“I suspect that this time will be different, that we won’t have the creep that we’ve had,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
The Republican National Committee has established rules penalizing states that hold votes ahead of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, he noted.