Editor’s Note: US Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is in her second term representing New Hampshire. She served as governor of New Hampshire from 2013 to 2017. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
As we approach New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary on Tuesday, America’s democracy is more challenged than at any point during my lifetime. The threat of a second term for Donald Trump means that our country’s fundamental values and electoral system itself are on the ballot in 2024.
Despite the attempt to change the primary calendar, Granite Staters on Tuesday will write in President Joe Biden precisely because of our passion for citizen-led democracy and our commitment to protecting the future of our country.
This year, President Biden’s name will not be on the primary ballot over a dispute with the Democratic National Committee, which voted to change the date of the New Hampshire primary. It decided to disqualify the state from receiving any delegates after determining that South Carolina should be the first primary — but that has not stopped Granite Staters from organizing a write-in campaign and continuing our engagement with the democratic process.
Since its inception, the New Hampshire presidential primary has helped strengthen our democracy and elect better presidents. The “all-hands-on-deck” spirit of our state means we participate in town meetings, volunteer for our community and elect a 424-member volunteer citizen legislature to serve a population of 1.4 million.
Our commitment to civic participation is in part why the people of New Hampshire helped create the modern primary — Granite Staters were among the first in the nation who decided that instead of selecting party delegates in the backrooms, all voters across the state should have a say. We helped wrestle nominating contests from the grips of party bosses, holding our first in the nation primary — where voters choose party delegates — for the first time in 1920. In 1952, voters started directly selecting their preferred presidential nominee.
The New Hampshire primary has always helped strengthen our democracy. In our polarized political moment — where social media, algorithms and some partisan politicians sow discord and drive more Americans to the extremes — it has become challenging for voters to sort truth from misinformation. In order to help bridge this divide, voters need the opportunity to engage with candidates face-to-face and in real time.
In other larger states, campaigns are won and lost by massive ad buys or flashy rallies where candidates may never come face to face with a question from a voter, but the small size of our state provides candidates the opportunity to do things differently. Our primary provides an ideal proving ground for candidates to have direct, person-to-person interactions with the people who they wish to serve.
In our state, candidates can travel in just an hour or two from our largest cities that grapple with challenges like homelessness to our rural communities where the lack of high-speed internet continues to hold back families and the economy.
Successful candidates in our primary have to be prepared to win one conversation at a time, talking to voters of all ages, backgrounds and — particularly in a state where independents are a plurality of voters — all political stripes. Because New Hampshire’s government requires an unusually high degree of citizen engagement, direct access to elected officials is routine for most Granite Staters and we are not easily swayed or impressed by slick advertising or large entourages.
In our state, candidates who expend shoe leather and spend time listening have a shot against those who start the contest well known or with big war chests, which is why it is critical that New Hampshire goes first. It is also important to note that New Hampshire is not the only early state; while our state continues to grow in its racial diversity, especially among young people, the group of early primary states has strong racial and geographic diversity.
New Hampshire’s person-to-person style of campaigning also forces candidates to answer direct questions from the voters. Just last month we were reminded how skilled Granite Staters are at holding candidates to account when Nikki Haley was pressed about what was the cause of the American Civil War and she refused to say that it was caused by slavery. She later backpedaled her comments and said “of course the Civil War was about slavery.” These direct questions that get to the heart of a candidate’s character are just one of the ways that our primary helps produce stronger nominees.
In this time of polarization, having a primary that places a premium on direct conversations between candidates and citizens is invaluable; it is not only how citizens can hold candidates to account, but it gives us a chance to see how democracy works at its best. It bridges divisions and helps us see the priorities and heartaches that we have in common. New Hampshire’s commitment to empowering citizens — and in treating those who would lead us as “citizens in chief” — has made our first in the nation primary indispensable and our democracy stronger.
Granite Staters’ commitment to democracy is why we will continue to hold our primary and why we organized a write-in campaign to support President Biden.
The dangers of another Trump presidency are clear. As just one example, at a rally last November in Claremont, Trump echoed fascist dictators by calling his political opponents “vermin,” and he has continued to repeat the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
President Biden, on the other hand, is committed to protecting our democracy and to working on behalf of the American people — regardless of political party — to deliver results. At a time when many believed that bipartisanship was impossible, President Biden has demonstrated that our democracy can work, passing bipartisan legislation to lower costs, invest in manufacturing here at home and rebuild our infrastructure.
There are those who suggest that — given the DNC’s wrongheaded decision to forego New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary — Granite Staters should stay home, or refuse to vote for President Biden. We’re not going to do that. I know that New Hampshire Democrats and many independents will join me in writing in President Biden’s name on Tuesday because we understand the importance of this election for our country. We have long known that staying on the sidelines is not an option and we will put our country first.
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