First-in-the-nation primary loses its top champion — but the calendar probably isn’t changing

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Bill Gardner is leaving, but New Hampshire isn’t going to be any less militant about protecting its legendary perch in presidential politics.

Gardner has for several decades served as the chief defender of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation role at the top of the presidential primary calendar. Gardner, a Democrat, announced on Monday that he would soon be stepping down as the state’s secretary of state, a role he has held since 1976.

He has sometimes gone to extreme lengths to defend the small Northeastern state’s role as presidential kingmaker — something Gardner has said he viewed as one of his main responsibilities, with state law giving the secretary of state authority to set the primary date and thwart other states’ efforts to jump the line.

During a 2012 jailbreak by a handful of states looking to shift their contests forward during the contested Republican primary, Gardner threatened to schedule New Hampshire’s contest in December 2011 if that’s what it took to preserve New Hampshire’s spot

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