President Joe Biden hasn’t visited New Hampshire since 2022. And his reelection campaign is acting as though the state’s presidential primary doesn’t exist, as national Democrats continue to spar with their local counterparts over the Granite State’s place in the nominating calendar.
But the Biden administration — the president’s Cabinet, in particular — has been showing a keen interest in New Hampshire in the crucial final stretch before the Jan. 23 primary.
This week alone, New Hampshire has logged visits from five Cabinet secretaries: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Tuesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday. That’s on top of recent visits from White House Senior Advisor Tom Perez, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.
They’ve spread out across New Hampshire, talking up spending by the Biden administration on roads, schools, farms and more. Just don’t ask them whether it all has anything to do with the primary campaign later this month.
“I’m not in a position to comment about the election,” Granholm told an NHPR reporter earlier this week, when asked what New Hampshire voters should make of the flurry of attention paid by her and other administration officials lately. “Being a Cabinet official is subject to the Hatch Act, it’s not an area that I can really talk about.”
Indeed, the law she referenced does restrict federal officials from participating in certain partisan political activities, particularly when they’re on government time. And neither the Biden campaign nor the White House responded to a request for comment on the wave of senior administration official visits ahead of the primary.
But as voters gear up to cast ballots in the first Democratic contest of the 2024 cycle, Granholm and her colleagues have been eager to promote what they say are specific ways the president has helped the people of New Hampshire.
In Nashua, the energy secretary highlighted local businesses that have benefited from federal clean energy incentives. The secretary of the interior visited a Seacoast salt marsh to announce new funding supporting those ecosystems. And the transportation secretary — who placed ahead of Biden in the 2020 New Hampshire primary — focused on local investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In Durham on Monday, Vilsack — also a former New Hampshire primary candidate himself — promoted federal funding for the University of New Hampshire, among other initiatives.
“We’ve actually provided the university several grants,” he said, “enabling them to put together essentially a backbone of of a telecommunication system that allows, initially, experts at the university to be able to consult with and to communicate with providers across the state of New Hampshire, to extend and expand the expertise of those at the university to all corners of the state.”
Vilsack also talked about efforts to expand mental health care access in rural areas, to offer grants to small and mid-sized farmers and to build climate-smart farming practices.
But when asked whether his visit had any potential connection to the upcoming primary election, Vilsack declined to comment, citing restrictions on what he’s allowed to say in his capacity as an administration official. He said his visit was part of a broader effort to travel the country and talk about how the Biden administration is trying to help rural areas.
“I can tell you that I ran, but I can’t really comment about the experience because that might be tantamount to talking about politics per se, specifically and I can’t do that in an official event,” Vilsack said. “ I love New Hampshire, it’s a great state. This is picture perfect – when you think about New Hampshire in the winter.”
Similarly, White House Senior Advisor Tom Perez also brushed off any connection to the 2024 campaign during his visit highlighting broadband investments last week.
“We’re here talking about infrastructure because we’re here talking about how we have continued to make sure that these investments are paying dividends to take advantage of this moment,” Perez said in a phone interview, following an event in Sugar Hill. “That’s the purpose of my visit, is to make sure that we highlight the critical investments and learn from the community.”
Perez said he “learned so much” from his conversations with local residents — and made sure to underscore the “really good job creating measures” the administration was investing in for New Hampshire.
NHPR reporter Mara Hoplamazian contributed reporting to this story.