Lynch defends N.H. primary

CONCORD -- Gov. John Lynch defended New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary Saturday, both privately and on national television.

Lynch was attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, where he also met briefly with Iowa Gov. Chet Culver to discuss the presidential nomination calendar. Appearing on C-SPAN Saturday morning, Lynch reiterated his belief that New Hampshire should retain its lock on the first primary and that contests in other states should be more spread out.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's departure from the presidential race Friday is proof that the increasingly crowded calendar hurts qualified candidates who are unable to raise the money to compete, Lynch said. But he rejected a suggestion from one caller that the fierceness with which New Hampshire protects its primary _ state law requires the primary to be held at least a week ahead of any other similar election _ has contributed to the front-loading.

"The problem we see is other states moving up in the process," he said. "It's not what New Hampshire's doing, it's the fact that other states are moving up."

Lynch said repeatedly that New Hampshire doesn't want to be the "first and last word" on which candidates should become the nominees, but it does want to stay first.

"We certainly don't want to be or don't position ourselves as king-makers, but we do think New Hampshire is the place to start because we offer candidates a level playing field," he said.

Insistence by national Democrats that Nevada hold caucuses before New Hampshire has prompted concern that New Hampshire will leap ahead of both Nevada and Iowa. But Culver has said he thinks Iowa's leadoff role in the presidential nominating process is secure. Iowa law requires the state's caucuses to be held before the first primary.

In his private meeting with Culver, Lynch emphasized that New Hampshire's secretary of state has the sole authority to set the date, and that he probably will not do so until late fall, said Lynch's spokesman Colin Manning.