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Nov 12, 2015 10:54 PM

Steinhauser: Candidates warn that NH primary status in peril

NH1 Political Director -

CONCORD – Lindsey Graham has a warning for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status: “I fear that this is the last time that New Hampshire can say we’re the first in the nation when it comes to primaries.”

The senator from South Carolina and Republican presidential candidate rang the alarm bell Thursday morning while speaking with reporters minutes after filing to put his name of the primary ballot.

The long shot for the GOP nomination is spending most of his time on the campaign trail in the Granite State. But his low national poll numbers have prevented him from making the prime-time stage at any of the Republican presidential debates. He was relegated to the less watched under card debates at the first three showdowns, and bumped entirely from this week’s fourth GOP debate.

The media organizations that have hosted the debates are using national polling as the criteria to decide which candidates of the 15 Republicans running for the White House make the prime time debates and the undercard showdowns. The use of national polling has been derided by many in the early voting states of New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, as well as by the candidates failing to make the cut. The argument is that media networks are taking over the winnowing process from what has traditionally been the role of the early voting states.

“Is this the last New Hampshire first in the nation primary?” asked Graham.

“I’ve never been more worried about the early primary states than I am today. The nationalization of this election by using national polls to determine who’s qualified to speak undercuts the process that’s withstood the test of time,” he added.

Graham predicted that “if this continues, the election cycles of the future, it’s going to be very difficult for South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire to stand out. Because the way you become heard is not by going to house parties and town halls, it’s whatever you need to say and do to get national polling up.”

Earlier, while filing for the ballot, Graham said “this is so cool to go from central South Carolina to New Hampshire running for president of the United States. Anything is possible in America.”

And he got a little choked up, sharing that “this is a bit emotional for me. I wish my parents were here. I think they are in spirit.”

Graham wasn’t the only candidate Thursday to warn that New Hampshire’s special status may be in jeopardy.

“Iowa and New Hampshire in my opinion should be the ones that set the field and right now they’re not,” said former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who battled eventual nominee Mitt Romney deep into the 2012 Republican primary calendar.

Due to low national poll numbers, Santorum has been delegated to the earlier under card showdowns at all four debates. Santorum targeted the media, as well as the Republican National Committee, which set the rules for the debate process.

“The media’s setting the field by the debate structure, the number of debates and that’s the RNC’s fault, and the debate structure which is combination of the RNC and the media’s fault. I think it’s been a debacle. You have people who clearly have something to say, of accomplishment, who are running strong campaigns in the early primary states because that’s what you’re supposed to do and are not being rewarded for that,” he said.

Santorum declared that “it’s a travesty and the RNC is completely in bed with it.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also filed on Thursday. Unlike Graham and Santorum, Cruz has seen his national poll numbers rise and has made the cut for all four prime time debates.

But he too warned that “there are voices in Washington that are arguing for getting rid of New Hampshire’s first in the nation status. I think that is absolute lunacy.”

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