December 5, 2022
President Joe Biden has asked leaders of the Democratic National Committee to make South Carolina the nation’s first primary state, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada a week later; and to hold subsequent weekly primaries in Georgia and Michigan, according to Democrats briefed on the plans, reports The Washington Post.
The tectonic decision to remake his party’s presidential nominating calendar for 2024 came as a shock to party officials and state leaders who had been lobbying hard in recent weeks to gain a place in the early calendar, which historically attracts millions of dollars in candidate spending and attention. While many in the party had long anticipated changes, the specific order Biden proposed had generated little if any chatter in Democratic circles. Much of the talk among Democrats had not focused much on either South Carolina going first or Georgia joining the early mix.
The proposal is likely to win approval from the Democratic officials, given the support from the leader of the party. By breaking with decades of tradition, Biden’s move is meant to signal his party’s commitment to elevating more variety—demographic, geographic, and economic—in the early nominating process. Iowa, a largely White state that historically held the nation’s first Democratic caucus and experienced embarrassing problems tabulating results in 2020, would have no early role in the Biden plan.
“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 to members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee that was delivered on Thursday evening, December 1, as members planned to meet for dinner. “As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color—and that includes Black, Brown, and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters.”
The new calendar would run through states that were pivotal to Biden’s victory in the 2020 nominating fight and general election, suggesting he is serious about following through on his public statements about intending to seek reelection. In the Thursday letter, Biden told fellow Democrats that he did not want to bind the party to the same calendar in 2028.
“The Rules and Bylaws Committee should review the calendar every four years, to ensure that it continues to reflect the values and diversity of our party and our country,” he wrote.
The plan is expected to face resistance from some of the affected states. Democrats in New Hampshire said Thursday night that they would not abide by Biden’s wishes. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has also said he would follow state law and hold his state’s primary a week before any other.
“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “This news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first. We have survived past attempts over the decades and we will survive this.”
Iowa Democrats also signaled resistance to the plan. “This is merely a recommendation,” said Scott Brennan, Iowa’s representative on the Rules and Bylaws Committee. “We’re going to stand up for Iowa’s place in the process.”
“This is a principled decision. Fundamentally, he felt that this was an opportunity,” said one Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to more openly describe the president’s decision to prioritize states with more diverse electorates. “He has done it with the Supreme Court. He has done it with his Cabinet and his administration. He just felt it was very important.”
The Michigan delegation greeted the news as a success. “This president knows that any road to the White House has to go through the heartland of America,” said Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), who had helped to lead her state’s bid. “To me this has been a 30-year quest,” she said, referring to her work with the late Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to get the state on the early calendar.
South Carolina Democrats also welcomed the news. “It appears as though President Biden is not only transforming our country,” Trav Robertson, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, wrote in a text message. “He’s transforming the way in which we nominate presidents. He is going to have a lasting impact on America.”
“I got into politics because of civil rights and the possibility to change our imperfect union into something better,” Biden wrote on Thursday. “For 50 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.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost