Biden Urges Democrats to Dramatically Alter Early Primary Calendar
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has asked the leaders of the Democratic National Committee to dispense with decades of tradition and make South Carolina the nation’s first primary state.
The proposal, which was sent in a letter to party officials and read at a party dinner Thursday night, would have primaries in Nevada and New Hampshire held a week later, and then Georgia and Michigan would follow over the next two weeks.
In what might be perceived as a further dis to Ohio, which has held the first nominating vote in the quadrennial presidential primary process since 1972, Biden wrote, “Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process.”
Iowa is a caucus state and does not hold a primary. Despite that difference, the state has played a significant role in choosing party nominees.
Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has finished among the top three in the Iowa caucuses — except when Iowa’s own Tom Harkin ran in 1992.
Harkin easily won that Iowa caucus with 76% of the vote, uncommitted took second place with 11%, Sen. Paul Tsongas, of Massachusetts, came in third, with 4%, and then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton finished fourth, with 2%.
Whatever moves the Democrats make, Iowa is still expected to remain the leadoff contest for Republicans, who have agreed to maintain the usual early state order of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Biden’s proposal was first reported by The Washington Post.
After a daylong gathering of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee on Friday, members voted to recommend supporting a 2024 Democratic presidential primary calendar that would begin in South Carolina on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and then Michigan on Feb. 27.
The decision isn’t final, however, as it still has to be approved by the full DNC early next year.
Biden’s proposal is meant to signal his party’s commitment to elevating more variety — demographic, geographic and economic — in the early nominating process.
Every four years, the political parties come in for criticism for leading the calendar with Iowa, a largely White state that critics say doesn’t represent the diversity of the American electorate.
“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,” Biden wrote in a letter addressed to members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.
“Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” he said.
“We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process,” he added.
While the proposal appears likely to win the approval of the Democratic Party’s top brass, it is already causing pushback from some state and local officials and their counterparts in the nation’s capital.
“Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn in a written statement. “Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation.”
Clearly stung by the president’s reference to the caucuses, Wilburn wrote that “it’s disappointing to see a characterization of caucuses that does not reflect the historic reforms that we proposed. The new Iowa caucuses will be a simplified vote-by-mail process that increases accessibility and grows our party.”
“Iowa does not have the luxury of conducting a state-run primary, nor are Iowa Republicans likely to support legislation that would establish one,” he added. “Our state law requires us to hold a caucus before the last Tuesday in February, and before any other contest.”
Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand shared Wilburn’s concerns.
“As I always say, no one does a better job of testing candidates than Iowans,” he wrote on Twitter. “Winning here might be hard work but I don’t think it is good for a party or a country to shy away from hard work.”
Scott Brennan, Iowa’s representative on the Rules and Bylaws Committee said, “We’re going to stand up for Iowa’s place in the process.”
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley was equally vociferous, declaring in a written statement that “the DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away.”
“The news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first,” he said.
Buckley went on to note that New Hampshire has survived past attempts over the decades to repeal its first-in-the-nation status, “and we will survive this,” he said.
“Our first-in-the-nation primary has been an integral part of our state’s history … and is enshrined in state law,” he said.
“We look forward to welcoming candidates to New Hampshire in 2024 and beyond. We will continue to do what we in New Hampshire do well — provide a level playing field for all candidates and ensure they are stronger and ready for the fights ahead,” Buckley added.
The state’s Democratic senators also expressed their disapproval.
“I strongly oppose the president’s deeply misguided proposal for changes to the primary calendar. Make no mistake, New Hampshire’s law is clear and our primary will continue to be first in the nation,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said in a written statement.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the proposal “holds no bearing over when we choose our primary date.”
“New Hampshire’s state law stipulates that we will hold the first-in-the-nation primary. That status remains unchanged as we are bound by state statute,” she continued, adding, “We look forward to hosting candidates for the 2024 presidential primary and showing the country we should continue to be entrusted with the first-in-the-nation primary that yields timely, reliable results with a process that levels the playing field for all, regardless of clout or background.”
In the meantime, the campaign arm of the House Hispanic Caucus campaign, Bold PAC, called on Democratic Party leaders to support Nevada’s application to host the first Democratic presidential primary in the country.
In a joint statement, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., chair of Bold PAC, and Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., said the midterm results in Nevada illustrated why elevating this diverse battleground state and showing a deeper commitment to hearing from Latinos and other non-White voters “is so crucial for winning national elections.”
The midterms were a success for Democrats in Nevada, with the party successfully defending Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s seat and three House seats.
“Picking a president should start with a state that reflects our shared values of inclusion and embodies our rich diversity — particularly when it comes to some of the fastest growing voting blocs in the nation,” Gallego and Ruiz added.
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This story has been updated to reflect the vote of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee on Friday, Dec 12.
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