NH Party Chairs Visit The Rockefeller Center To Discuss the Presidential Primary

On Wednesday, November 1, 2023, The Rockefeller Center hosted New Hampshire State Party Chairs Chris Ager (R) and Raymond Buckley (D) to discuss the upcoming Presidential Primary. The conversation was moderated by Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics Russell Muirhead, who represents Grafton-12 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Muirhead's first question was about the reasoning for New Hampshire holding the first primary. As party chairs, both Ager and Buckley took pride in New Hampshire's role in the electoral process. Both chairs pointed to the "vetting" that candidates undergo when they campaign in the Granite State.

"We [New Hampshire voters] will say 'very nice to meet you, now what exactly is your position on blank?" Buckley joked. "It doesn't matter if you're 15 years old or if you're 95 years old, it is part of our culture."

Ager agreed that "the New Hampshire primary helps filter the candidates and expose them to the rest of the country." He added that high schoolers will often ask better questions than the national media, and emphasized that the First in the Nation Primary "belongs" in New Hampshire.

Muirhead then asked about notable high points from the New Hampshire primary across history.

Ager, who credits Ronald Reagan for his initial political interest, told a story about the 1980 Republican primary, during which there was a dispute about who should be allowed to debate. Initially, the debate coordinators planned for a one-on-one debate between George H.W. Bush and Reagan, but Reagan offered to fund the rest of the candidates' appearances. At one point during the debate, the moderator attempted to turn off Reagan's microphone, to which he responded, "I paid for this microphone."

"It's a little piece of history that happened right in Nashua, and New Hampshire propelled Ronald Reagan to become the most popular president in history," Ager said.

Buckley offered a broader view of the New Hampshire primary, crediting its unique nature for the eventual elections of Presidents Carter, Kennedy, and Obama.

"We really provided a leveling platform for candidates to come here and prove themselves," Buckley said. "There's a long history of people that didn't show up prepared, didn't answer the questions in a way that the New Hampshire voters accepted and they ended up leaving without  much of a vote and bewildered."

The party chairs shared the story of Chris Christie's takedown of Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Rubio offered a talking point-filled paragraph, which Christie used to criticize Rubio for only memorizing bullet points. In response, Rubio "repeated word for word, the exact same paragraph and you could see sweat pouring down from the Rubio people," according to Ager.

As the conversation moved back to the Chairmen themselves, Buckley joked that his mother claimed "God knew what he was doing when he put Ray Buckley in New Hampshire." He admired the ability of New Hampshire to influence the entire government, just by being citizens of New Hampshire.

Speaking on New Hampshire's role in national politics, Ager noted that the Republican Party was founded in New Hampshire.

"I wasn't there, but Amos Tuck founded the Republican Party in Exeter on October 12th, 1853," Ager said. "170 years ago, they had to found an anti-slavery party in secret in Exeter. The Republican Party's lineage is very rich and powerful."

On their personal relationship, both Ager and Buckley emphasized that while they are on opposing sides, they are not "enemies."

"He's an admirable adversary," Ager said. "Yeah, we're going to throw some punches but the end game is that we want to help the people in the state improve their lives."

By Varun Swaminathan '26, Rockefeller Student Assistant for Public Programs