New Hampshire Democrats weigh whether to cross over and vote in GOP primary

CONCORD, N.H. — President Joe Biden may skip the New Hampshire primary ballot after he backed a Democratic Party plan to make South Carolina home to the party’s first primary. And that could create a dilemma for Biden supporters in New Hampshire if they still want to cast votes: write in his name or possibly take their votes to the open Republican primary.

The idea of getting involved in the race to renominate former President Donald Trump or pick a new direction for the GOP has been an intriguing one for several groups and a number of voters.

A new national PAC called Primary Pivot is encouraging Democratic voters to temporarily switch their party affiliations to “undeclared” so they can vote against Trump in the GOP primary. New Hampshire is one of 29 states that allow independents to pick either party’s primary in each election. But registered Democrats have to decide soon whether they’ll make the switch: New Hampshire voters have to declare their party affiliations for the 2024 primary by Friday. Primary Pivot said that after that, it will pivot to courting independents to vote in Republican primaries.

Tell It Like It Is PAC, the super PAC backing former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also recently began sending mailers urging Democrats to make the switch needed to participate in the Republican primary.

But when NBC News asked Christie last month about whether courting Democrats is part of his strategy, he said: “I’m more than happy to accept whatever support comes. But there’s no part of our campaign strategy. We’re not spending any money on that.”

Undeclared voters play a major role in New Hampshire primaries: NBC News exit polls have found nearly half the vote in New Hampshire’s last few contested primaries came from them.

“Many of these people do not like the former president,” Primary Pivot co-founder Rob Schwartz said of the voters it’s targeting. “This is a way to channel that and actually make a difference.”

Some New Hampshire voters are intrigued.

Amber Nicole Cannon, a self-described progressive New Hampshire resident who was approached by a Primary Pivot volunteer in Manchester, said, “If we want to have any influence on [the Republican] side of the discussion at all, it seems like this could be really interesting.”

Cora Small, a lifelong Democrat who said she planned to switch to “undeclared” after having heard from Primary Pivot, said: “I think by voting Republican — at least you can get Donald Trump out of there. I think it’s dangerous to have him involved in any way.”

A USA Today/Boston Globe/Suffolk University survey released Wednesday found likely Republican primary voters continuing to support Trump. He polled at 49%, followed by former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, at 19%, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, at 10%.

Schwartz believes the strategy could lead to a competitive Republican primary rather than “a coronation for Trump.”

An unusual Democratic contest

But some New Hampshire Democrats fear what could happen if rank-and-file Democrats don’t boost Biden to a landslide win in the New Hampshire primary, even if it’s not sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. The DNC’s first sanctioned primary will be in South Carolina, with the plan calling for Nevada and New Hampshire both to go on the second date — violating 100 years of New Hampshire tradition that its primary goes first. New Hampshire has vowed to plow ahead, even as a primary “unsanctioned” by the DNC, which is why Biden might not file to get on the ballot there.

Even though the primary filing period doesn’t open until Oct. 11, Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have both been campaigning in the state as Democrats.

“There is a real concern amongst Democrats that if the president doesn’t show up and file for the first-of-the-nation presidential primary that we’ve got to make sure that we do our part and write the president in,” said Matt Wilhelm, the Democratic leader in the state House.

Wilhelm and other current and past party figureheads are sketching out what a grassroots door-knocking and phone-banking campaign would look like this winter.

The last time a sitting president decided not to file in New Hampshire was in 1968, when a flailing Lyndon B. Johnson calculated that lending any credence to the idea of a competitive primary would be bad for his re-election chances.

Even though Johnson didn’t appear on the New Hampshire ballot, 50% of voters in the Democratic primary wrote his name in anyway. But a relative unknown from Minnesota, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, came surprisingly close, with 42% of the vote. The New Hampshire result prompted Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York to jump into the race, and within three weeks, LBJ had dropped his re-election bid altogether.

Wilhelm said he doesn’t fear a repeat of 1968, but he does think a convincing result in New Hampshire could give Biden a national jolt.

“I think it’s really important that we send a message,” Wilhelm said. “All the Republican candidates are here, so, you know, they’ll have a story coming out of New Hampshire — it’s important that the Democrats do, as well.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, believes Biden has underestimated the importance of his state, which has even enshrined its “first-in-the-nation” status into state law.

“I think Joe Biden has misplaced and miscalculated all the politics and understanding of the process,” Sununu said. “I think he’s using national politics and messing with a national system for his own personal gain. But there’s no game there.

“Our laws are our laws — we’re not changing anything,” he continued. “We’re just doing it the same way.”

To run for president in New Hampshire, a candidate or someone who represents a candidate needs to file in person at the state Capitol during the filing period.

This cycle, Secretary of State David Scanlan set the filing period to be Oct. 11 to Oct. 27. Filing includes paying a $1,000 fee and signing a declaration of candidacy.

The desk where candidates sign their declarations is an original piece of furniture that was in the Capitol when it first opened its doors in 1819. It’s all part of New Hampshire’s long-standing efforts to uphold and honor tradition around its early primary.

Scanlan isn’t budging about going first, saying that “at a minimum, we will be at least seven days before South Carolina.”

He said his office hasn’t yet heard from the Biden campaign about scheduling a filing trip to Concord.

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