I have to wonder sometimes about Hillary’s real commitment to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status.

Certainly when she is up here, we are her favorite mensch and she is eloquent in her support for our primary role. Away from New Hampshire, it sounds like a different story. 

Regarding the renegade states of Florida and Michigan, I realize there is a lot at stake, but fudging her position on New Hampshire only feeds into her image as a cold, calculating, political opportunist with no principles worth fighting for. That’s a shame, because on issues like Iraq and health care she appears ready to take the heat for her positions because they are “the right thing to do.”

What’s my problem with Hillary and New Hampshire?

As it is currently stated, her position seems fine to me. The problem is a) it took a political eternity for her to stick up for New Hampshire and the DNC rules, and b) she and her campaign are still looking for loopholes that would de facto make New Hampshire’s primary irrelevant.

As the stories about Florida’s and Michigan’s intention to leap-frog over the other primary states began to emerge, Hillary and her campaign had nothing to say that would discourage those confederates from tearing up the DNC plan. She could have had some influence. Instead, putting her political interests ahead of the party’s and the nation’s, she let those states turn the Democratic primaries into a late-night TV joke. Don’t you think her silence was construed as a green light?

When it came to accepting the DNC pledge not to campaign in states that broke the rules, Hillary’s campaign was the LAST to sign, doing what it could to stall the inevitable. 

From an Associated Press story published in the International Herald Tribune on Friday, August 31: 

Aides to Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the two front-runners, said they were reviewing the pledge. Clinton’s aides have said that previously she is committed to competing wherever a primary or a caucus is staged.

Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said Clinton is committed to the “special role” that the four states play and that she will campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire whenever their dates are set.

Reviewing the pledge? How difficult is it to “just say no” to the rule-breakers? Not until her main rivals, Obama and Edwards, had signed the pledge did Hillary do likewise. That is not leadership.

As reported in the New York Times:

Hours after Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina agreed to sign a loyalty pledge put forward by party officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York followed suit. The decision seemed to dash any hopes of Mrs. Clinton relying on a strong showing in Florida as a springboard to the nomination.

“We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process,” Patti Solis Doyle, the Clinton campaign manager, said in a statement.

Playing “a unique and special role” is not the same as saying, “Iowa and New Hampshire deserve to go first, Hillary supports their positions in the primary calendar, and we will not campaign in any state that does not abide by the agreed-upon DNC rules.”

Now, Hillary’s campaign is trying to find loopholes in the wording of the pledge in order to permit her to effectively campaign in Florida and Michigan.

From today’s Detroit Free Press:

Former Gov. James Blanchard, cochairman of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign in Michigan, said signing the pledge was a mistake but predicted the leading Democrats would find ways to campaign actively in the state.

All that, of course, misses the point. Although my state legislators and other New Hampshire polls are quick to shake down presidential candidates for favors, the real reason to keep New Hampshire first — in spirit and in fact — is that it creates a level playing field for all candidates.

Sad to say, the best explanation of that purpose comes from one of Hillary’s opponents, John Edwards: “the contest for the nomination for the presidency should be based on substance, real ideas and who should actually change the country, who has the personal characteristics to be president, not a fundraising contest.”

Edwards is no saint on these matters, either. As I recall, it was Edwards who lured Hillary into agreeing that those pesky second tier candidates should be dropped from the debates.

In the final analysis, parsing words about the rules, who should be first, and who should play, do not serve Hillary’s goal of showing voters that she is a principled person who will do the right thing, not the expedient thing. Yes, experience counts. But it needs to be experience doing the right thing, the right way.

Lastly, here’s Bill Schneider, political analyst for CNN, on the New Hampshire primary:

Don’t mess with Iowa and New Hampshire. They still call the shots. The whole idea of letting Iowa and New Hampshire go first is that they are small. They require face-to-face campaigning. To run in Florida and Michigan, you have to spend a lot of money on TV ads. But those poor voters may not see as many ads as they had hoped.

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