The state known for hosting the First-in-the-Nation presidential primary is also tied for last when it comes to the date of its state primary elections. New Hampshire’s primary won’t be until Sept. 10, the same day as stragglers Delaware and Rhode Island.

In fact, no state will choose its nominees later than New Hampshire. (All dates come from the Federal Election Commission calendar.)

Critics decry New Hampshire’s late-primary policy, noting it’s common in states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware that have histories of political corruption and rarely hold competitive elections. Candidates who hope to challenge incumbents are left with just a few weeks to reunite their party and raise money before the general election.

“Holding the primary in September amounts to what is basically an incumbent protection plan. It’s an inherent disadvantage,” says Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), chair of the House Election Law Committee and a supporter of moving the date forward.

And Berry may get his wish, if one of two bills that have already passed in the House and Senate are signed into law.

Last week, the Senate voted to pass legislation that would move New Hampshire’s primary date to the second Tuesday in June, the same date as five other states and Washington, D.C. The House advanced a measure last month to move the primary to the third Tuesday in August, a date shared by Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming.

“The rationale behind this move is to give voters more exposure to their general election candidates,” Sen. Daryl Abbas (R-Salem) said during Thursday’s Senate hearing. “Having three more months of campaign time will afford candidates multiple opportunities for the public to get to know them and understand their position on important issues.”

Abbas, who is a sponsor of the bill and also serves on the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee, pointed out that for primary candidates, “the target audience for your message is much smaller.”

“For candidates in a general election to get more time to get their messaging out to all of the constituents in the district, especially a statewide race, continuing to have that September primary puts the voters at a disadvantage,” he added.

One of his GOP colleagues is opposed to the June proposal. Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampton) said the date for the proposed change coincides with the time of the year lawmakers are usually busy debating legislation.

“This is a period of time where we have released our bills, but we’re getting to the House bills,” Birdsell said. “We’re in the process of doing the business of the state while our opponents are out there campaigning, while we’re trying to do our business.

“I am very concerned that this gives a disadvantage to us,” she said about incumbents vying to protect their seats.

In 2021, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would have moved the primary date to the first Tuesday in August. Sununu said he agreed with then-Secretary of State William Gardner’s opinion that an early August date would result in depressed voter turnout.

Holding the primary during the height of school summer vacation could also harm efforts to recruit poll workers and primary day volunteers, Sununu added.

Sununu also signaled at the time that he had no interest in supporting an earlier primary date.

“New Hampshire’s elections are the gold standard for the rest of the country,” Sununu said in a statement. “Our primary date schedule has stood the test of time.”

During consideration of the proposals in 2021, it was the House that favored moving the primary date to the fourth Tuesday in June and the Senate that pushed for the second Tuesday in August. A bicameral conference committee agreed on the first Tuesday in August, which Sununu then quashed.

Today, the legislative roles are reversed. The House is advancing an August date, and the Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on a June option.

Immediately following Sununu’s 2021 veto, Ross said he was looking forward to “(advancing) the House position that our state primary should be in June, where polling has shown it would have zero impact on turnout.”

Sen. Timothy Lang (R-Sanbornton), a sponsor of the Senate’s newest proposal, said last week Sununu now appears amenable to a June primary date despite his comments in 2021.

Berry told NHJournal on Monday that despite the House’s vote in January to move the primary to August, the month of June remains the most sensible timeframe for a primary date shift. Fourteen states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, hold their primaries in June, more than any other month.

Democrats have generally opposed efforts to move the primary date, in part because their party holds far fewer competitive primaries than their GOP counterparts. For example, there were no competitive Democratic primaries in 2022 in the races for governor, U.S. Senate, or Congress. Republicans, on the other hand, had three hotly-contested primaries in the federal races, and even Gov. Chris Sununu faced five GOP challengers (though he still got 79 percent of the vote).

But this year, Democrats have their own competitive primary in the governor’s race, between former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington. Craig’s campaign released a scathing memo over the weekend featuring harsh attacks against Warmington, a sign the race is likely to be the sort of bruising contest that can make a nominee less competitive for the general election.

And as elements of the Democratic coalition become more progressive, some Granite State Democratic insiders say they can see a future where the top-down approach of the current state party isn’t enough to prevent serious would-be challengers on the sidelines.

“Trump has chased out [Republican] moderates,” one Granite State Democrat told NHJournal on background. “Ours are going to stay and fight.”

But why is the House pushing an August date now? Berry says he doesn’t know, and it’s an option he’s never supported.

“The House has passed (a June date) multiple times, and I am perplexed as to why anyone would consider August when it’s already been vetoed,” Berry said. “I’m much more willing to work with a June date. Anyone who thinks about this seriously would say no August.”

Berry called arguments opposing a June date “silly.”

“They claim the reason is we’re still in the legislative session. But we’re talking about incumbents who are seldom challenged,” he said about lawmakers who oppose a June primary switch. “August is still too late, and that’s the key point.”