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2024 Presidential candidates ramp up campaigns for 1st primary in New Hampshire


New Hampshire state law requires it to hold the first primary election in the country, so 2024 presidential hopefuls are campaigning. They're mostly Republican, but there are also a few Democrats challenging President Joe Biden. The president wants South Carolina to vote first in 2024, upending New Hampshire's top spot. In fact, Biden isn't even expected to put his name on the ballot there. And this is causing drama for top Democrats in the Granite State. Josh Rogers from New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: In some ways, it feels almost like any other New Hampshire summer in the run-up to a presidential primary. Big-name candidates are showing up and doing their thing.


DONALD TRUMP: We're going to finish what we started, and we will make America great again.

ROGERS: But for Democrats, the presidential campaign trail these days has a less familiar feel.


ROBERT KENNEDY JR: We need a public health response and not the response where Americans feel that their civil rights are being taken from us.

ROGERS: That's Democratic candidate Robert Kennedy, environmental lawyer and vaccine skeptic, campaigning at PorcFest, a libertarian camp out high in the White Mountains. At this event, where freedom can mean public nudity, carrying an assault rifle or both at once, Kennedy's conspiracy-tinged speech went over big. Carla Garrick, a prominent New Hampshire libertarian, was quick to judge it a winning approach.

CARLA GERIKE: If you can speak across the aisle like Kennedy chose to do today, those are the people who are successful in New Hampshire. I think his message is going to resonate. In fact, I think he might smoke Biden.

ROGERS: The idea of a Democrat like Kennedy beating, let alone smoking, the incumbent president feels far-fetched. But Kennedy isn't the only candidate aiming to convince voters anything is possible.


MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: New Hampshire is a very interesting vortex.

ROGERS: Author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson stood barefoot in front of a large gong at a Manchester healing studio. A small audience sat on yoga mats and nodded as Williamson talked about universal health care, free public college and beating the odds.


WILLIAMSON: It doesn't really matter what the national press is saying. It really doesn't matter what the pundits are saying. It really doesn't matter what the political rags are saying. What matters is what the voters in New Hampshire are saying.

ROGERS: There is truth in that. And it's also true that no incumbent president seeking another term has lost the New Hampshire primary. But Joe Biden's plan to displace overwhelmingly white New Hampshire's leadoff primary in favor of South Carolina, where Black voters dominate the Democratic electorate and Biden notched his first win in 2020, has stung politicos here. Former New Hampshire House speaker Steve Shurtleff endorsed Biden as soon as he got into the race four years ago. Shurtleff says right now it will take some convincing for him to again pull the lever for Biden.

STEVE SHURTLEFF: I may end up voting for the president, but I'm very disappointed in what he's done to our New Hampshire primary without any real justification.

ROGERS: Despite the hard feelings of some key Democrats, polls here don't show Biden in any political danger. But even so, Kathy Sullivan, a former state party chair and Democratic National Committee member, is urging party regulars here to mount a Biden write-in campaign.

KATHY SULLIVAN: If there is not a write-in, the alternative is that someone who is a fringe candidate may very well win the New Hampshire primary. And that is, I think, bad for the president, and I think it's bad for New Hampshire because it will make us look like we are not serious voters.

ROGERS: After holding the first primary for decades, there's no doubt New Hampshire voters see themselves as serious ones. But a challenge top Democrats here face as 2024 approaches is that President Biden may have a different view. After all, in 2020, Joe Biden finished fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Before that, no one who ended up winning the presidency had ever placed worse than second. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Josh Rogers