This Week's Hot Primary Campaign Spot: Bill Gardner's Office

Nov 2, 2015

NHPR's State of Democracy app is sponsored in part by: The NH Primary Student Convention, January 4th-6th, 2016.

While the New Hampshire Primary has been humming along at top speed for months, it’s easy to overlook that two basic details have yet to be wrapped up: the actual date of the Primary election, and the official candidate names to appear on the ballot. At least one of those should start looking a bit firmer this week.

Wednesday is opening day in the primary ballot filing period, in which candidates for president must register their names with the New Hampshire secretary of state in order to get on the state’s primary ballot. New Hampshire’s rules for this are relatively straightforward: A prospective candidate just has to plunk down $1,000 and sign a form affirming that he or she is a member of whatever party’s nomination they are seeking.

In essence, it’s little more than an administrative detail, a box to be checked between campaign stops. But, as with most Primary rituals, candidates routinely use the requisite visit to the secretary of state’s office to generate some news coverage: picture sign-waving supporters lining the State House hallways; then chatty, TV-ready banter with Secretary of State Bill Gardner; capped off with a rally on the capital plaza.

The party-affiliation requirement of New Hampshire’s ballot law has raised speculation about Bernie Sanders’ eligibility to appear on the Democratic ballot here. Sanders has rejected the party’s nomination in earlier campaigns and identifies as an independent in the U.S. Senate, though he caucuses with Democrats. His campaign recently noted that he'll appear on the Democratic presidential ballot in his home state of Vermont, which should, supporters claim, qualify him for New Hampshire’s ballot.

The schedule - as of last week - for candidates appearing in the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office to get their names on the state's presidential primary.

  The first day of the filing period has traditionally been a time for, shall we say, fringe candidates to claim the spotlight. (Anyone remember Robert Haines?) But Democrat Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, has already announced he’ll pay his visit to the State House at the opening bell, Wednesday at 8 a.m.

The next day, look for Sanders, as well as Republicans Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio, to make the pilgrimage to Gardner’s office. Friday, Republicans Chris Christie and John Kasich are on the schedule.

White House aspirants have until Nov. 20 to sign up for the state ballot, so expect the rest of the field to trickle through the State House over the next couple of weeks. (The schedule maintained by the secretary of state’s office, in true Gardner fashion, consists of penciled-in entries on a manila folder.)

There is, of course, one crucial detail yet to be settled: the actual date of the state’s presidential primary election. While state law requires that Gardner set the primary at least seven days before any “similar election” in another state, it will likely fall on Feb. 9, 2016, based on how the rest of the nominating calendar shapes up. If that date sticks, it will be the latest New Hampshire Primary in two decades.

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