A defiant Secretary of State David Scanlan picked a battleground backdrop for his formal announcement that New Hampshire’s First in the Nation primary will be held on Jan. 23, 2024.

The date was not a surprise, but the New Hampshire secretary of state’s rhetoric and tone were more combative than in the past. Particularly notable were his references to New Hampshire’s role in the Civil War and the battle to end slavery in the U.S.

Scanlan made his announcement in the Hall of Flags at the State House, where more than 100 battle flags carried by New Hampshire soldiers from the Civil War to Vietnam are on display. And Scanlan made it clear he and the state of New Hampshire were up for a fight.

NH Secretary of State Dave Scanlan addresses the press in the Hall of Flags at the NH State House in Concord, NH.

“We did not take the First in the Nation primary from anyone, and we will vigorously defend it,” Scanlan said. He pushed back on the repeated attacks from Democrats, including President Joe Biden, that New Hampshire is  “too White” to be trusted with its special place on the primary calendar.

“Using racial diversity as a cudgel in an attempt to rearrange the presidential nominating calendar is an ugly precedent. At what point does a state become too old, or too wealthy, or too educated, or too religious to hold an early primary?”

Then Scanlan turned the tables by invoking New Hampshire’s role in ending slavery in the U.S.

“Behind me and on the walls around the room are the bullet-riddled, shrapnel-torn, and bloodstained flags carried into the major battles and skirmishes of the Civil War. New Hampshire soldiers associated with these flags fought against the worst form of oppression,” Scanlan said. “And 125 of those soldiers were African American.

“This display is a daily reminder and a testament to the character, courage, and sacrifice of New Hampshire citizens.”

And, as Adam Sexton of WMUR noted, the flags immediately over Scanlan’s shoulder were carried in battle by members of the 4th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment, which spent much of the Civil War fighting in South Carolina — the state Biden hoped would host the first primary.

Scanlan was joined for the announcement by Gov. Chris Sununu, the chairs of the state Democratic and Republican Parties, and former Democratic Rep. Jim Splaine. Splaine wrote the New Hampshire presidential primary law 50 years ago and is currently calling for Biden to drop out of the race due to his age.

Sununu said the effort of Scanlan and his team accomplished more than “just keeping a nice tradition.”

“That’s not what this is. The First in the Nation primary is something that is earned.”

New Hampshire law requires the state’s presidential primary to be held at least seven days before a similar contest, a fact Biden and his allies on the Democratic National Committee ignored when they created a new calendar putting South Carolina in the top spot. For months, the DNC badgered the Granite State to change its date, but nobody in New Hampshire politics even suggested giving in to the DNC’s demands.

The result is a primary calendar that begins with the traditional early states in their usual order: The Iowa caucuses on January 15, New Hampshire on January 23, and South Carolina Democrats holding their primary on February 3. The Palmetto State GOP will vote on February 24.

There will be 21 Democrats and 24 Republicans on the ballot in New Hampshire. Biden will not be one of them. He refused to file the paperwork to appear on the ballot in the state’s unsanctioned primary, though his campaign falsely claimed the president “wishes to participate in the primary” but is “obligated” to obey the DNC rules. Democratic U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, who is covered by the same rules, filed to appear on the Granite State ballot.

But rather than punishing Biden for trying to kill the state’s 104-year-old tradition, Granite State Democratic leaders like U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster and former state party chair Kathy Sullivan are rallying to his aid with a write-in campaign.

“I’m proud to support the grassroots effort to Write-In Biden in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary this winter,” Kuster posted on X.

Critics say if local Democrats reward the DNC today, they will make it easier for the national party to do the same in 2028. Asked if Democrats were undermining the future of the First in the Nation primary by aiding Biden’s write-in effort, Scanlan gave a measured response.

“I believe that the president is making a mistake by not putting his name on the ballot here. But that’s a decision that he gets to make,” Scanlan said. “And we will run the primary accordingly.”

Sununu was more blunt.

“I think they’re obviously embarrassed by their national party, and so they’re going to do a write-in process. And they have every right to do it,” Sununu said. “But when you now have to do a write-in process to try to get your incumbent sitting president the win in New Hampshire, that’s not a good position for the Democrat Party or Joe Biden to be in. And I hope they learn from that.”

Sununu said he believes the attack on the Granite State’s primary has “backfired” on the DNC. Asked if Biden’s decision to skip the primary might be setting a precedent for the future, Sununu turned the tables.

“I think, if anything, we’ve set the precedent that try as you might, we do it right, we do it best,” Sununu said.

“Skip New Hampshire at your own peril.”