Democratic leaders voted Friday to adopt the transformative early 2024 presidential nominating schedule proposed by President Biden, giving South Carolina the leadoff position, followed by a joint primary day for New Hampshire and Nevada, with later primaries by Georgia and Michigan.
The new calendar upends decades of tradition in which Iowa and New Hampshire held the first two slots for both Democratic and Republican nominating contests. Biden said the remaking of the primary calendar will better reflect the demographic, economic and geographic diversity of the Democratic Party.
Democratic chairman Jaime Harrison, a South Carolina native, who was informed of the decision Thursday night, reacted emotionally to the vote putting his state first, describing the decision as a way of honoring non-White, non-college educated and impoverished voters like his grandparents.
“These people have often been forgotten, many times voiceless and voteless,” he said. “The Democratic Party is the party of hope. This is the leadership that we have seen every minute of the Joe Biden presidency.”
Under the adopted rules, South Carolina would vote on Feb. 3, 2024, followed by a joint primary day in New Hampshire and Nevada three days later on Feb. 6. The Georgia primary would be Feb. 13, and the Michigan primary would be Feb. 27. The rest of the country would be free to set primaries between March 5 and June 4.
The calendar is not expected to be adopted by all the affected states, likely forcing further revisions next year before the full Democratic National Committee ratifies the schedule. New Hampshire Democrats have said they will refuse to follow the new calendar, since their state law requires New Hampshire to hold its presidential nominating contest one week before any other state primary. The Georgia secretary of state, a Republican, has not yet said he will allow the Democratic primary to move earlier.
Representatives from only two states, New Hampshire and Iowa, opposed the change Friday in a vote by the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. Iowa, traditionally the first caucus state, has been stripped of its early status under the new calendar.
Biden said the new calendar would only apply to the 2024 cycle, and should be reconsidered after the next presidential election.
“I got into politics because of civil rights and the possibility to change our imperfect union into something better,” Biden wrote to the committee Thursday. “For fifty years, the first month of our presidential nominating process has been a treasured part of our democratic process, but it is time to update the process for the 21st century.”
“In four years, we are going to revisit this whole thing all over again,” Harrison said Friday.
Iowa, the traditional kickoff state that has held its caucuses the week before New Hampshire’s primary, is largely White and has become overwhelmingly Republican in recent years. The state also experienced embarrassing problems tabulating results in 2020. Iowa’s representative on the committee, Scott Brennan, said his state would continue to fight for the state’s early role in the process, without saying whether Iowa Democrats would go rogue to hold an unsanctioned contest.
“I cannot support the proposal before us,” Brennan said. “Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice.”
New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators, meanwhile, both vowed Thursday to defy Biden’s wishes by supporting Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan to keep the nation’s first primary there.
“New Hampshire does have a statute. We do have a law. And we will not be breaking our law,” said Joanne Dowdell, New Hampshire’s representative on the committee.
Nevada leaders, who have already set their primary for Feb. 6, requested that South Carolina vote on the Saturday before their contest, a proposal that was adopted by the committee. Michigan Democrats have said their state leaders will change the primary date to meet the new rules. South Carolina’s primary date can be set unilaterally by party leaders.
States that disobey the ultimate decision by the DNC will face serious sanctions from the party, including the unseating of delegates at the nominating convention, according to Democratic officials, following rules the party passed this year. Candidates who campaign for primaries or caucuses that are not sanctioned — or place their names on ballots in those contests — can also be punished by the national party, with any delegates they win in those states being stripped of voting power at the convention. Rogue candidates could also be stripped of access to the party-sanctioned debate stages.
As the meeting began Friday morning, some members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee voiced support for the Biden plan. Stuart Appelbaum of New York called the Biden rubric “an elegant plan.”
“This is what our party looks like. This is what America looks like,” he said.
“I support what the president of the United States has asked us to do,” said another committee member, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“I’m so proud that we are going to hear from more voices,” said Donna Brazile, another member of the committee, about Biden’s desire to make the early nominating process more diverse. “I’m not going to abandon a president who is winning for the American people.”
Biden has said he intends to run for reelection and does not yet face a primary challenger. As a result, the DNC is not planning for a competitive primary in 2024. Republicans, meanwhile, plan to stick to the traditional early calendar, with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina leading off the voting to nominate a GOP candidate.
Republicans are expected to seek a split primary date in Michigan. Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state for Georgia, did not clarify Friday how Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger would handle conflicting delegate selection rules from the Democratic and Republican parties.
“Our legal team has continuously stated that both parties are going to be on the same day and we will not cost anyone any delegates,” Fuchs said in a statement.
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), a close Biden ally, celebrated the president’s move, although he said he did not ask Biden to push South Carolina to the front.
“I was perfectly pleased with South Carolina being last in the early window, but I did ask him not to put a big state like Michigan in front of South Carolina,” he said.
But Biden called Clyburn on Thursday to share that he was recommending that South Carolina go first, a move Clyburn said “maximizes the opportunity for our candidates to connect with the voting public.”
“I would say to all my friends on the rules committee, let’s work on what’s most successful for our candidates, not what satisfies people’s ego,” he said.
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