Those of a certain age may well remember a momentous speech in late March 1968. An embattled President Lyndon Johnson went on national TV ostensibly to update the American people on the status of the Vietnam War. LBJ had ordered a massive bombing of North Vietnam and was hoping the barrage would bring Ho Chi Minh to the bargaining table so that peace could come to South Vietnam.
After about 40 minutes of explanation of what was happening, Johnson shocked supporters and detractors alike by announcing, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
Even though Johnson had shepherded his Great Society social programs through Congress and championed Civil Rights, he knew his legacy was going to be predicated on the mess that was Vietnam. That fact had been brought home to him earlier in the month when the first Democratic presidential primary of the election year had been held in New Hampshire. Johnson should have won that election easily. But he only got 48% of the vote. Senator Eugene McCarthy, a leading opponent of the war, garnered 42% of the total. That result told LBJ he was vulnerable, and historical writings suggest he didn’t want to be a sitting president who couldn’t get his party’s nomination for another term. Thus, his announcement.
In short order, Senator Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy, as did Hubert Humphrey and others. And all started winning delegates in subsequent primaries.
Why bring this up now? Because of New Hampshire. For over 100 years, the Granite State has been accorded the honor of First-Primary-in-the-Nation status. It’s practically the state motto. Contenders from the Republican and Democratic parties spend a lot of time glad-handing in diners in Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and many smaller burgs to get to know New Hampshire citizens and vice versa. Winning the first primary can boost the candidacy of a would-be president immeasurably. Conversely, not doing as well as expected can quickly dash his or her dreams.
The New Hampshire Primary has become more significant for 2024 because Joe Biden kinda promised South Carolina it could hold the first primary next year. Joe didn’t fare so well in New Hampshire in 2020 (he came in 5th in basically a field of five). However, soon thereafter he won in South Carolina, and that victory put him on a successful road to the White House.
But there’s a rub to his plan. The powers-that-be in New Hampshire are loathe to give up their “We’re first” status. The state likes its designation so much that the legislature passed a law saying it HAD to hold its primary a week before any other state. And it isn’t budging from that. Which presents a dilemma for the incumbent president. There’s a very real possibility that Joe Biden’s name won’t be on the ballot in New Hampshire.
Instead, as of this writing, two other declared Democratic candidates WILL be vying for delegates. One is named Marianne Williamson. The other is – wait for it – Robert Kennedy. Yes, if you weren’t aware, Bobby’s son is running for president.
More than a few members of the Democrat National Committee (those who set the rules for the nominating process) are none too happy with the New Hampshireites. No doubt the DNC has probably made its displeasure known behind closed doors to Biden campaign officials.
DNC: Biden’s got to run in New Hampshire.
CAMPAIGN: We don’t want him to.
CAMPAIGN: Well, mainly, those people weren’t very nice to us last time. And we love South Carolina.
DNC: But New Hampshire is important. It’s held the first primary since 1920.
CAMPAIGN: Doesn’t matter. A promise to the Palmetto State is a promise.
DNC: You can’t just not show up in New Hampshire.
CAMPAIGN: Don’t worry. We have a plan.
DNC: Well, we’d like to hear it.
CAMPAIGN: We go ahead and put the name J. Biden on the New Hampshire ballot. But instead of Joe, we send Jill Biden up there to campaign. Nobody has to know what that “J” stands for.
DNC: Hmmm. That’s actually not a bad idea. As long as nobody pays too much attention, Biden may get some delegates but doesn’t have to break his “You-can-be-first” promise to South Carolina.
CAMPAIGN: We think it’ll work. Plus, all the action’s gonna be on the Republican side anyhow. You can always count on Trump to make things interesting.
DNC: You got that right. He might hopefully deflect some of the attention away from us.
CAMPAIGN: Besides, it’s too cold in New Hampshire. You ever been up there in January? You REALLY have to like snow.
DNC: Not that you’re familiar with snow jobs or anything.
CAMPAIGN: Hey, if it works, why not?
©MMXXIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer