THE NEW HAMPSHIRE primary is central to our democratic process, but the Democratic National Committee is putting that at risk. The DNC needs democratizing itself. It’s a centralized, national organization with an elite, 30,000-foot flyover culture.
The New Hampshire primary is just the opposite: local, open and inclusive — the way democracy should be. It’s important not just because it’s the first primary in the nation, but because it gives voters on the ground open access and a long, up close and personal look at all the candidates, before the national media hype and big party apparatus go into high gear, so they can make up their own minds about who connects.
That’s why some candidates unexpectedly catch fire in New Hampshire while others fade, and why a strong showing here has been a prerequisite for presidential nominees in modern times.
But today’s DNC doesn’t quite get that about New Hampshire. It favors candidates with big money and nationwide name recognition over candidates who can connect with voters, build a winning coalition and unite the country. It is working to replace New Hampshire’s brand of retail politics and direct democracy with a kind of virtual national primary filled with reality TV-style debates and dominated by establishment donors, party operatives and media elites.
I know this because in addition to being a presidential candidate dealing with changing DNC rules, I was also a DNC vice chair in the last election cycle, until I perceived the fix was in, and resigned. The system hasn’t improved since then. It effectively disqualifies non-establishment candidates, even while they’re campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa, and preempts voters’ decisions in the early states.
The media creates a perception that the national debates are all that matter. But to qualify for them, the DNC requires candidates to have a certain number of donors and reach arbitrary thresholds in arbitrarily selected polls. It counts some polls (mostly those run by big corporate media) and discounts others without rhyme or reason or sampling standards. Most DNC qualifying polls have larger than reported margins of error of 7-10%. So candidates barred from the DNC debate stage may in reality be polling significantly higher than candidates on the stage. And the entire process is completely lacking in transparency.
If you have name recognition and money, you’re a shoo-in, but if you aren’t rich or famous, you face long odds. Polling this early in the race skews heavily towards recognizable names. Wealthy candidates blanket the airwaves and internet with ads, racking up clicks and likes, small donations and e-signatures, until they buy their way past the threshold to get their spot on the debate stage. They can and do spend up to or more than $50 to get a $1 donor, and repeat it tens of thousands of times. One billionaire candidate is spending $100 million of his own money. It’s wholesale marketing, not retail campaigning.
What we’re seeing on DNC debate nights isn’t the ablest candidates who earned a following and a chance to shine; it’s product placement.
This isn’t democracy. It’s a set of arbitrary rules, biased toward elites, influenced by major corporations and media, in which voters have no say. It gives the DNC way too much power and limits and preempts voters’ choices half a year before the first primary.
The DNC wasn’t always the only game in town. Until recently, candidates engaged in robust independent debates hosted by universities or the League of Women Voters. No longer. The DNC monopolized the field by excluding any candidate who takes part in independent debates from the DNC-sanctioned debates.
Speaking as someone who qualified for the next DNC debate, this is unacceptable. I met the DNC’s criteria, but I recognize they’re undemocratic and need fixing. The DNC is trying to take away voters’ freedom to choose the nominee.
But Granite Staters have the power to say “no” to that. It’s not the DNC’s job to whittle down the field of candidates, even a crowded field, through numbers games. Narrowing the field is the voters’ job. New Hampshire primary voters need to interact with viable candidates from all walks of life, not just the rich and famous, and decide for themselves who stands out, who connects, and who America can get behind in 2020.