Joseph F. Keefe

1550 Union Street

Manchester, New Hampshire 03104




November 16, 2005



Hon. Alexis Herman


Hon. David Price


Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling

Democratic National Committee

430 South Capitol Street, SE

Washington, DC 20003


VIA FASCIMILE: 202.572.7871



Dear Secretary Herman and Congressman Price:


As a former Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and Member of the DNC Rules & By-Laws Committee, I have read with growing dismay some of the recent news reports about the apparent direction (or drift) of the Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling.  I had hoped that the Commission would focus on improving the Democratic Party’s nominating calendar by taking up two critical challenges: (1) enabling more diverse states to play a larger role in the process; and (2) addressing the problem of frontloading, which threatens to completely undermine any sort of rational nominating calendar.  Instead, the Commission’s focus, perhaps in deference to Senator Levin, seems to have devolved into a concentrated effort to undermine New Hampshire’s historic first-in-the-nation primary, which has the potential to create chaos in the calendar and jeopardize Democratic chances of winning the White House in 2008.


Please know that, as far as I am concerned, there is no acceptable compromise the effect of which would be to undermine New Hampshire’s historic first-in-the-nation primary.  Should the Commission embrace such a proposal, I will do whatever I can to encourage New Hampshire Democrats and others to oppose the Commission’s recommendations, and to prevent such an outcome by whatever means necessary.


The Commissioners should understand that the New Hampshire Presidential Primary not only plays an important and positive role in the presidential nominating process – for reasons you are well familiar with – but also is fundamental to New Hampshire’s history, identity and culture.  You can no more take the Primary from New Hampshire than you can take the Derby from Kentucky, or the Statue of Liberty from New York.  It is part of who we are.  We established it here, and it has not only served the nation well since 1920, but has become woven into the fabric of our state and its people.  We will not part with it.


Commissions may come and go – perhaps every four years if some people have their way – and well-intentioned people can tinker each election cycle, thinking they have invented a better mouse trap.  In fact, it is in the nature of such things that those involved are always fighting the last war, and usually end up unleashing unforeseen and unintended consequences that further de-stabilize the process.  Still, if the Democratic National Committee thinks it can improve the process, I am all for that, particularly if it means addressing diversity and frontloading.  Perhaps the Commission will find its way back to these issues.  In the meantime, the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, which history has established as first-in-the-nation, and which has endured the test of time, is not something that is negotiable every four years.


I understand that political parties have a right to determine their nominating processes, but I also believe they should do so within the context of history and tradition, and should not do so simply for purposes of rewarding one or more states at the expense of others.  That’s what you would be doing should you decide to challenge New Hampshire’s historic first-in-the-nation status.  This was not a status that was given to us.  This is something that we created, and it is something we have nurtured and cared for and improved upon over many, many years.  New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status is not a result of favoritism; it is a product of history.  If favoritism is involved, it would only come into play by your taking it from us in order to reward some other state(s), or interest group(s), or U.S. Senator.


I would urge the Commission to return to the issues of diversity and frontloading, as it is by addressing these challenges, rather than challenging New Hampshire, that this Commission will distinguish itself and its work. 


The lack of diversity at the front end of the process could be addressed by adding a state or states to an early, prominent position in the presidential nominating calendar after New Hampshire.  Beyond that practical solution, Democrats should be wary of trying to over-engineer the presidential nominating process in an effort to produce a particular result.  Moreover, although no single state can credibly claim to represent or be a proxy for the entire nation, some of the proposed alternatives – a national primary; multiple regional primaries; or alternating lead-off states every four years – create issues far more problematic than the current system.  Scheduling one or two diverse states outside of the window, following New Hampshire, can begin to address the diversity issue without wreaking havoc on the entire nominating process.

The influence of states with diverse electorates could also be augmented by addressing the most serious problem with the current nominating calendar: the problem of frontloading.  As the Hunt Commission warned in 1982, frontloading trends then evident (and now much more pronounced):


“…threaten to ‘lock up’ the nomination prematurely, fore-shortening the period during which candidates may be developed and issues may emerge.  They make the party and its convention less able to respond to a changing political environment.  And they devalue states whose primaries and caucuses come late, reducing the prospects of a meaningful showdown between major candidates at the end of the window period.”  


Ironically, frontloading – where states march to the front of the process in order to gain influence – results in many states being bunched up on the same dates, whereby each state actually loses influence over the nominating process.  It is frontloading – not Iowa and New Hampshire – that forces candidates to drop out and narrows the field too early, because only those with sufficient money to compete in a number of far-flung states, bunched up and frontloaded immediately after Iowa and New Hampshire, can credibly remain in the race.  It is front-loading that closes the decision-making process too early, thereby decreasing voter interest and participation as voters in later states perceive that their votes don’t count.  And it is frontloading that threatens to surface a Democratic nominee many months before the Republicans nominate their own.   


The best antidote to frontloading is to spread out the calendar over a 3-4 month period of party-sanctioned primary and caucus dates, beginning in February and ending in June, whereby individual states would be allowed to schedule their primaries or caucuses on dates that they can occupy alone, or share with only one or two other states. DNC Rules could delimit the number of delegates that can be chosen (and therefore the number of states that could hold contests) on each sanctioned date.


A lengthened calendar, with a limited number of states holding contests on each sanctioned date, would give individual states, including states with diverse electorates, more influence; allow candidates to compete for a longer period of time without dropping out; give the Democratic Party and Democratic voters across the country more opportunity to assess the candidates; increase voter interest, participation and turnout; strengthen state parties and energize voters at the grassroots level; and contribute to the selection of a nominee who has demonstrated sustained, broad-based support and is therefore more likely to be elected in November.


Should the Commission propose positive solutions on diversity and frontloading, I am sure that Democrats everywhere – save perhaps a small number of party insiders in Michigan – will support its recommendations.   More importantly, the Commission will have made a positive contribution to Democratic electoral prospects, in 2008 and beyond, rather than allow itself to be hijacked by a small number of influential partisans and special interests.    


Ironically, New Hampshire was the only red state to turn blue in 2004.  Although traditionally a Republican state, New Hampshire has delivered its four electoral votes to the Democratic nominee in three of the last four presidential elections, and would be 4 for 4 but for Ralph Nader.  Should the Commission continue in the direction evidenced by recent press reports, this would be an odd time indeed to punish New Hampshire.  Four electoral votes would have changed the outcome in 2000, and could well sway the result in 2008. 


I cannot stress how unwise it would be to undermine New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status, nor how strongly New Hampshire Democrats will fight against the Commission’s recommendations.  Stripping New Hampshire of its historic first-in-the-nation status – by placing wolves in caucus clothing ahead of us in the nominating calendar – will not help secure New Hampshire’s electoral votes in 2008, nor help us re-elect our Democratic governor in 2006.  A long, protracted battle between the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee will not help either.  But you should know that we will fight should the Commission attempt to take away what history and tradition have conferred upon us – or at least that I will do everything in my power to see that we do. 


I hope the press reports I have read turn out to be inaccurate, and that the Commission will address the real issues confronting the nominating calendar – diversity and frontloading – rather than using its mandate to undermine New Hampshire’s historic and still vitally important first-in-the-nation primary.    


Very truly yours,



Joseph F. Keefe