CONCORD, New Hampshire — Moments before former Vice President Joe Biden arrived to sign up for the New Hampshire primary, a nuclear power safety activist shouted at reporters and photographers crammed into one room of the secretary of state’s office, while a man wearing a motorcycle helmet tried to get listed on the ballot as “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself” in the other.
Wandering into the chaos was 86-year-old Sybil Dupuis, whose great-grandfather wrote the legislation leading to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary more than a century ago. Though candidates now sign up at his antique desk, he hardly could have imagined the scene.
“Heavenly day, no! Grampa Bullock didn’t even tell his family that he had even written the legislation,” Dupuis said.
The publicity stunt Dupuis witnessed — that referenced conspiracy theories that financer Jeffrey Epstein didn’t die by suicide in jail as a New York medical examiner has ruled — failed since candidates aren’t allowed to use nicknames associated with a slogan or cause. But 50 others — 33 Democrats and 17 Republicans — did manage to get on the ballot for the 2020 primary before the filing period closed Friday. That’s compared to the 42 names voters saw 100 years ago, the first time New Hampshire held the nation’s earliest primary.
Back then, voters selected delegates to the nominating conventions, rather than voting for the candidates themselves. But it was more say than they had before state Rep. Stephen Bullock filed his 1913 bill to allow anyone who wanted to be a delegate to get on the ballot after paying a $10 fee. Today, the fee is $1,000, and most of the candidates showed up in person to hand over their checks, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who filed the day he announced his late entry into the race.
As they signed up, most of the candidates got a pep talk from Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who reminded them that the primary was created to give the “little guy” a greater voice in politics and has, over the years, been won by underdogs.
“You don’t have to have the most fame or fortune,” he told Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Nov. 6.
“Excellent! It’s like a therapy session,” Klobuchar joked. “You know, this is really helpful. Inspirational!”
Gardner also told Klobuchar that her home state held its primary on the same day as New Hampshire in 1916 only to skip the election four years later. And he reminded Indiana natives Pete Buttigieg and Vice President Mike Pence that Indiana voted a week ahead of New Hampshire that first year before moving to a later date for subsequent cycles.
The office, and often the hallway leading to it, were packed for the big-name candidates, but many others made quieter appearances, standing behind Bullock’s desk and speaking to whatever media were on hand.
Matt Matern, a lawyer and philanthropist from Los Angeles, used his time Tuesday to promote his plan to cut taxes entirely for working Americans making less than $100,000 a year.
“I’m not throwing my money away,” he said after paying the filing fee. “I believe the time has come to throw my hat in the ring because I don’t hear the current candidates on the Republican side saying the things I think need to be said, and I think we need to have a robust debate in the Republican Party.”
Not everyone filed in person. Pence was there to put President Donald Trump on the Republican ballot. Among Democratic candidates focusing efforts elsewhere, Kamala Harris sent a staffer to file her paperwork, while Julian Castro signed up by mail. Meanwhile, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will skip New Hampshire and the other early-voting states if he decides to run.
For the 2016 election, 58 candidates got on New Hampshire’s ballot. The all-time high for candidates was 1992, when 61 signed up. And the chaos that greeted Dupuis on Nov. 8 was par for the course for the filing period — in 2007, a Minnesota fugitive living in Italy beat a costume-wearing ex-convict to become the first to file as an official candidate in the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary. It took Robert Haines more than 90 minutes to turn in his papers, after he embarked first on a loud and erratic one-man show that included five costume changes, multiple characters and cursing.
As for Dupuis, she won’t be voting in the New Hampshire primary because she lives just over the border in Maine. She’s been keeping up with the candidates but hasn’t settled on a favorite yet.
“I don’t know, there’s been so many of them that I haven’t made up my mind,” she said. “But I’m gonna have to, because who knows if I’ll be around in another four years.”