The Democrats’ early-primary schedule is poised for a major shakeup that will break with tradition and further decouple the party’s nomination process from that of the Republicans.
At a private dinner on Thursday, Democratic Party officials announced that President Biden has urged them to jettison Iowa from the 2024 slate of early nominating contests, while vaulting South Carolina to “first-in-the-nation” status and moving the battleground states of Georgia and Michigan into coveted early slots as well.
Race is clearly a factor, as Democrats have increasingly bristled at giving so much influence to the predominantly white populations of Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” said de facto party leader Biden in a letter delivered to the Democratic National Committee on Thursday. “We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,”
South Carolina was the salvation of candidate Biden’s faltering 2020 primary campaign, after Rep. James Clyburn — “the godfather of South Carolina Democratic politics” — endorsed him.
Since 2008, nominating sequence has proceeded from the Iowa caucuses and then on to New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Biden’s proposed 2024 Democratic calendar looks like this:
- Tuesday Feb. 6: South Carolina
- Tuesday Feb. 13: New Hampshire and Nevada
- Tuesday Feb. 20: Georgia
- Tuesday Feb. 27: Michigan
While it’s still in the early window, New Hampshire would not only take a backseat to South Carolina, but would also be forced to share its primary day spotlight with Nevada.
Reactions from New Hampshire politicians came swiftly. “I strongly oppose the president’s deeply misguided proposal, but make no mistake, New Hampshire’s law is clear, and our primary will continue to be First in the Nation,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan in a statement. New Hampshire Democratic party chair Ray Buckley was also flatly defiant: “This news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first.”
New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status is indeed embedded in a state law that stipulates that the Granite State’s primary must be held one week before any similar contest. That sets us up an entertaining fight over the coming months. The party has its own weapon, in that it could punish New Hampshire by reducing the state’s delegates to the national nominating convention — or banning the entire delegation.
Nevada’s Democratic senators voiced their own displeasure — in a way that could seemingly be interpreted as deeming South Carolina unfit to go first not only for being too conservative but perhaps even too black:
The first contest “should be held in a competitive, pro-labor state that supports voting access and reflects all of America’s diversity,” said Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen in a joint statement.
Per demographic data from the US Census, here’s what Masto and Rosen seem to be alluding to:
- Black: USA 14%, South Carolina 27%, Nevada 11%
- Asian: USA 6%, South Carolina 2%, Nevada 9%
- Latino: USA 19%, South Carolina 6%, Nevada 30%
As with New Hampshire, Nevada legislators brushed aside party leaders’ announced intentions, declaring Nevada Democrats will vote on February 6, 2024 — the day that’s supposed to be for South Carolina alone — “and will continue to be held on the first Tuesday in February in future election cycles.”
As New Hampshire and Nevada Democrats ready to battle the party, it’s important to note that the new schedule must first be approved by the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee — which meets Friday and Saturday — and then by the full party in early 2023.
Though the rest of the world recognized that Iowa’s fate was already sealed, Iowa Democrat Scott Brennan, who is on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, said Biden’s letter came as a shock.
“A complete kick in the teeth. Very surprised. No courtesy of a call from the White House to frankly any member of the committee. The Washington Post had it before the committee did. So, you know, it says something to me about the process,” he told KCCI.
In addition to having a strike against it for its 90% white population, the Hawkeye State has also fallen out of favor with the DNC as the state increasingly leans Republican.
In his letter to the DNC, Biden also recommended that Iowa and a handful of other states and territories scrap their caucus systems altogether, on the premise that the time-intensive caucus process creates a barrier to participation by working-class people. Iowa’s 2020 caucus was an embarrassing logistical disaster.
Earlier this year, the Republican Party decided that, in 2024, contests will once again start in Iowa before moving on to New Hampshire, South Carolina and then Nevada.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls will surely be happy to sidestep those humiliatingly-phallic corn-dog photo-sessions at the Iowa State Fair. Well, at least, some of them will.