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By law, New Hampshire's presidential primary falls on the second Tuesday in March, or "seven or more days before any similar election." Every four years since 1976, the New Hampshire Secretary of State, Bill Gardner '70, has made sure that law gets enforced. Gardner is also the man candidates must see to run in the New Hampshire primary. He has been re-elected 16 times.

Q: Who's the strangest candidate who's walked through your door to file?

A: A chimpanzee in a white tuxedo. He had a gorilla in a truck outside. They wouldn't let the gorilla in the Statehouse. The candidate was the gorilla--the chimp was his campaign manager.

Q: Why does New Hampshire deserve to host the first-in-the-nation primary?

A: We have it naturally. There's a reason the Statue of Liberty is in New York harbor. Baltimore could say, "We're a historic harbor, so tow the Statue of Liberty here for a couple of years," but there's a reason why it's in New York. New Hampshire was responsible for creating the first national convention in 1832. It's like a tree in the forest that begins as a nut. It germinates. It grows slowly. The roots take hold, and it gets stronger and stronger. You can't replicate the political culture we have in this state. California would have to have 12,000 members in their Assembly to have the kind of per-capita representation we have in our 400-plus legislature. People here have run for office, they have family members who have run. They participate in many elections every year.

Q: Is our position as No. 1 safe?

A: People asked that question back in the first cycle I was here. And I said yes. Other people have said no, this is the last one. That's been going on every four years.

Q: Florida has set its primary for Jan. 29, 2008. South Carolina's making noises about going even earlier. The Democratic National Committee forbids primaries earlier than Jan. 22. Are you worried?

A: No.

Q: You've had standoffs with the Democratic National Committee before, haven't you.

A: In October 1983, Nancy Pelosi, who was not in Congress then, was appointed the chairman of the Compliance and Review Committee for the Democratic National Convention to make sure the states complied with the rules. She found out that I might not be having the primary on the day that the rules said they're supposed to be. So she came up to have a meeting with me. She sat right where you're sitting.

Q: What was she like?

A: Well, a newspaper story said she stormed in. But she didn't. She actually was very pleasant. We just had a disagreement about when New Hampshire would have its primary. She came in and told me, "You have to do this. You cannot break these rules, because you will not have representation at the convention." She said, "I understand you may not have the primary in March." I said, "It's not only that we may not, we are not, based on the current situation." In 1983, Vermont was moving their primary ahead of ours. She said, "I really don't believe this. I don't understand this. You will not have representation at the national convention if you do this." Afterwards I walked out with her, and she turned to me and said, "You are a young man. You probably think you have a political career ahead of you. If you do this, you will never be elected again." ~

Rebecca Rule '76, '79G is an author, storyteller, story gatherer and humorist. Her new collection of short stories is Could Have Been Worse: True Stories, Embellishments, and Outright Lies.

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