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May 03. 2014 9:31PM

Democrats' proposed primary slate in accord with Republican planning

New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary has never been better protected.

That's the reaction of Stephen Duprey, longtime member of the Republican National Committee, to news that Democrats plan to set New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 9, 2016.

The calendar approved by the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee on Friday still needs to be voted on by the full DNC, and under New Hampshire law, Secretary of State William Gardner ultimately sets the date of the primary.

Still, Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, last week called it "an important step in returning the primary to February."

Duprey agreed it looks good for New Hampshire. "The good news is the parties generally tend to work together on this, and we are pleased that they are following the rules that we adopted for our party," he said.

The RNC in January adopted rules that set the first four contests - in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada - in February, Duprey said.

"For the first time since the advent of the modern primary, the rules of the Republican Party specifically protect the first four early states," he said.

The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary traditionally kick off the official presidential campaign season. But in the past two campaigns, those dates have been pushed to early January to fend off attempts by other states to grab some of that early attention.

Buckley was hopeful that both parties would come up with significant penalties that would discourage other states from bumping up the calendar and causing the campaign to conflict with the holiday season.

"It is important to give the voters of New Hampshire and Iowa the opportunity to focus on candidates and the campaign," he said.

Here's why Duprey thinks the New Hampshire primary is safer than ever: New RNC rules say any state that jumps the calendar will forfeit nearly all of its delegates to the national convention.

The RNC adopted those rules by a 153-9 vote.

The RNC has not actually announced dates for the first four contests "because we leave it up to the states to do so," Duprey said.

However, he said, the expectation is that the Iowa caucuses will be on Feb. 1, New Hampshire's primary on Feb. 9, followed by the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20 and Nevada caucuses on Feb. 27.

Democrats released a similar proposed calendar on Friday but with the dates for South Carolina and Nevada reversed.

Duprey said New Hampshire political leaders are seeing the results of decades of effort to bring national party committee members here to witness firsthand how well the primary works.

"It's been 25 years of very hard work," he said. "When we started, people were openly hostile to New Hampshire going first; now they understand the importance."

Gardner said his obligation is to uphold state law, which calls for New Hampshire to hold its primary at least a week ahead of any other state contest. "If it ends up with these dates, it would honor the primary tradition," he said.

Does all this mean the calendar fights of recent years are settled at last?

"Ever vigilant," replied Duprey. "Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan said."

Still, he said, "it is more settled than it has been since 1956."

Duprey expects another big change in the 2016 presidential contest: fewer debates, spread across the country. And that will likely mean New Hampshire will host only one Republican debate during the primary.

But that doesn't bother him.

"Pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered," he said.

Meaning?

"We have the fun of having the primary," he said. "That doesn't mean we should also get four or five debates when there are important states that get nothing.

"It's good for everyone."New Hampshire Sunday News reporter Shawne K. Wickham contributed to this report.


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