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David D'Alessandro

Massachusetts - a primary pit stop

"I GO to New Hampshire looking for votes. I come to Massachusetts looking for money." These were the frank comments a presidential candidate recently made to me.

In other words he was saying, "I spend weeks, if not months, in total time visiting every city, town, and hamlet in New Hampshire. And just before I leave New England to rush to Iowa, Florida, California, South Carolina, etc., I pop into a Boston hotel or suburban McMansion to collect campaign donations before I leave Hanscom aboard my private campaign jet."

New Hampshire by day. Massachusetts by night. A bit like Dracula visiting us after sundown to suck blood.

How has the state that produced four presidents, educated even more of them, and provided two of the last four Democratic nominees been reduced to an ATM for candidates? And, why exactly, is New Hampshire so critical to candidates that they will sit around and chew the fat at the local grain store, campaign door-to-door, wear silly hats at county fairs, and cozy up to any elected official no matter how insignificant the responsibilities of office?

Simple - they have a primary that counts and we don't.

New Hampshire has a law claiming the nation's first presidential primary each election year, a primary, moreover, held at least seven days before any other one. Primaries in over 30 other states quickly follow. After the momentum of those primaries has essentially decided the nominee, Massachusetts slogs in with a March primary that, by then, is inconsequential, a mere afterthought.

It's a pretty sad comedown for a state that gave birth to the Revolution, hosted the Boston Tea Party, marked the site of many critical battles and produced patriots like Paul Revere, John Adams, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin.

It makes little sense. While Massachusetts's population stands at 6.4 million, New Hampshire holds only 1.3 million. New Hampshire demographics do not even represent the country, and yet it has so much influence at this critical electoral juncture. According to the Census Bureau, 96 percent of New Hampshire's population is white and 1 percent is African-American, with the balance consisting mainly of Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians. While Massachusetts may not be the ideal cross section of the country's demographics, we are almost 87 percent white and 7 percent African-American.

Many states are currently fighting over whose primaries should be earlier. Many states are moving up their primaries, much to the ire of New Hampshire and national political party officials.

Florida is in the Democratic National Committee's doghouse for bumping its date up to January, and New Hampshire may move to early January. The DNC is so upset that it is pressuring many candidates not to campaign in the Florida primary. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and John Edwards have already dropped out. Now, that is democracy at work! Bet the Constitution signers would be proud of this activity. Oh, by the way, most of these candidates still would not forgo holding fund-raisers in Florida.

There have been movements to clean up this escalating mess. Our own secretary of state, Bill Galvin, currently heads a group attempting to slow the early primary stampede. Hopefully, he can contribute to a better process.

But until it changes Massachusetts should play a much more important role. Not only do we have history on our side, but we have leading newspapers, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, some of the best political pundits in the country and, most importantly, a very politically engaged population.

Our primary should follow New Hampshire's by exactly seven days. This shift would force candidates to spend more time in Massachusetts. We could see them up close. In Dorchester, Springfield, the Cape, Charles Street. Everywhere. They would be forced to campaign here and in New Hampshire simultaneously, as our media outlets stretch deeply into New Hampshire. They could not afford to look at our voters merely as wallets anymore.

Thousands of voters could participate in seeing our potential next president in town meetings, debates, and summer picnics before the candidate is nominated and reduced to a 7-inch television figure - out of our reach of questions and conversation.

It is beyond comprehension that a state of our stature, our resources, and our high political interests sits on the sidelines. Let's force these presidential money vampires to spend quality time in our state and prove to us - in person - why they should lead this country.

David D'Alessandro, a guest columnist, is a former chief executive of John Hancock Financial Services.

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