DNC delivers blow to New Hampshire, Iowa with overhaul of primary calendar
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison speaks before introducing Vice President Kamala Harris at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting on Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images).
The Democratic National Committee approved a presidential primary calendar Saturday that placed South Carolina as the first nominating state in 2024, pushing back New Hampshire and Iowa from their traditional spots in a party-wide push to diversify the early calendar.
In a voice vote at the DNC’s winter meeting in Philadelphia, party members voted to place South Carolina first, on Saturday Feb. 3, 2024, followed three days later by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, and a week after that by Georgia on Feb. 13 and then by Michigan on Feb. 27.
“Folks, the Democratic Party looks like America, and so does this proposal,” said DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison.
The vote gave formal approval to a proposal first put forward by the Rules and Bylaws Committee in early December, which came after a year of presentations from state candidates. It also fulfilled a desire by President Joe Biden to emphasize South Carolina and Nevada over New Hampshire and Iowa, whose populations are majority white.
“We can’t go back in time to fix the mistakes of our past, but by golly, this will help allow us to put our hands on that arc of history and bend it towards justice,” said Pete Lee, the vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Oregon, during a debate ahead of the vote.
But the DNC vote clashes with the Republican National Committee’s vote in April 2022 to keep the traditional nominating order for its primaries: Iowa, followed by New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. It also set into motion what is likely to be a bitter conflict in New Hampshire and Iowa over their positions on the calendar.
For its part, New Hampshire has a state law that requires both Republican and Democratic presidential primaries to be held together before any other state’s, and its secretary of state, Dave Scanlan, has vowed to hold it first no matter what.
On Saturday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu reiterated that vow.
“Joe Biden and the power brokers at the DNC in Washington think New Hampshire’s time is up, but it’s not in our DNA to take orders from Washington,” Sununu wrote on Twitter. “New Hampshire will be going first in 2024.”
Saturday’s vote came after nearly an hour of spirited debate between representatives of Iowa and New Hampshire — who urged the party to reconsider the vote — and committee members from other states, who argued the change was necessary and overdue.
Harrison, of South Carolina, said the calendar “reflects our values and will strengthen our party.” He argued each state in the new calendar brings out the party’s strengths — from Black Americans in South Carolina to Latino voters in Nevada to union workers in Michigan and Nevada.
“Folks, think about this: Forty percent of enslaved people came to this country, and they came through the Port of Charleston,” Harrison said. “… We know how important the Latino voice has been in terms of building this country. It is elevated by pushing Nevada (up).”
Artie Blanco of Nevada agreed. Democrats in her state had long argued that a newly diverse primary was “in the long-term best interest of this Democratic Party,” she said. And the new position would be a meaningful boost for Latino voters, she said.
“Fellow Democrats, you can’t say you’re elevating this coalition’s voice but still ask us to wait our turn,” she said. “I’m done waiting.”
Other state representatives said the calendar provided a new roadmap for Democrats to build support in areas of the country once thought unwinnable. Alan Clendenin, a Florida Democrat, praised the new calendar for bringing a new focus to Southern states and forcing the party to take it seriously.
“The road to victory is going to go through the South,” he said. “We are rising, and between South Carolina and putting Georgia on the map, we will achieve victory in 2024 and beyond.”
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson argued his state’s new position would reward the presidential candidates who can compete in diverse environments, not just the ones who have raised the most money.
“The reality is this: 60 to 65% of traditional Democratic voters in the state of South Carolina don’t live in one county,” he said. “You have to come into our state and work in urban settings, in rural settings in order to put together an organization to win.”
In a fiery speech of her own, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan pushed back at arguments from Iowa and New Hampshire that they should keep their positions, countering that Michigan had been a better recent predictor of future presidents.
“Here’s the reality,” she said. “No one state should have a lock on going first.”
Last minute pleas from New Hampshire, Iowa
Representatives of New Hampshire, meanwhile, argued that the DNC’s move would have political consequences.
The DNC proposal approved Saturday granted each state its new slot provided it met a series of conditions. In New Hampshire, those conditions include the repeal of a 1975 law requiring its primary to be the first, as well as the passage of legislation to expand the number of people who can vote by absentee ballot. Both of those requests have been rejected by top Republicans in the state, who control the Legislature and governor’s office.
Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina had met their conditions in time for the Philadelphia meeting, a DNC official said, but New Hampshire and Georgia have not. On Saturday, the DNC approved an extension to June 3 for those two states.
But Joanne Dowdell, New Hampshire’s DNC representative on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, argued that whatever the deadline, the demands on the state are impossible to meet. If the demands are not met, the new DNC rules dictate that New Hampshire’s presidential primary be pushed back to March, well after the early window.
“It is frustrating because the DNC is set to punish us despite the fact we don’t have the ability to unilaterally change state law,” she said. “And we are frustrated because as many times as we say it, no one seems to listen when we say that this will only hurt President Biden in our purple battleground state.”
Dowdell said that because New Hampshire will likely hold its primary first regardless, any punishments levied against the state would affect support for Biden’s re-election.
“If President Biden doesn’t file for the New Hampshire primary, it could provide an opening for an insurgent candidate to rise in the state and potentially win the first presidential primary of 2024, something that no one in this room wants to see,” Dowdell said.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley warned that if Granite State voters soured on Democrats, the repercussions could affect the balance of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, both of which are near-evenly divided.
“Try to get to 51 in the U.S. Senate without Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan,” said Buckley, referring to New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators.
Iowa Democrats — who are eliminated from the early nominating window entirely under the new calendar — also aired frustrations.
Jan Bauer, an Iowa DNC member, said that the Rules and Bylaws Committee had ignored the state’s efforts to revamp its caucus system and effectively reshape it to act more like a primary. Those pledged changes came after a series of glitches caused days-long delays in delivering the results of the Iowa Democratic Caucuses in 2020.
Rita Hart, the newly elected chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said Iowa had been put in an “impossible” position of choosing between the DNC rules and its state laws. She also said the changes “feed the narrative that Democrats have turned their backs on Iowa and on rural America.”
“Iowans value common sense, and it just doesn’t make sense to entirely remove representation from rural Midwestern states in the pre-window,” Hart said.
Scott Brennan, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said he opposed the new calendar “from a genuine concern that the proposed calendar and the vast uncertainty surrounding it cannot be resolved in a timely manner.”
He said the extensions would not change the fact that two of the states could not comply with the new waiver requirements. He also argued that by approving the new calendar so close to the primaries themselves – almost exactly a year from Saturday’s vote – the DNC was setting itself up for a contentious year where states would attempt to overrule the new calendar.
“There is a limited amount of calendar real estate, conflicting state laws, and the GOP calendar that no longer bears any resemblance to ours,” Brennan said. “If past is prologue, some states proposed here will spend the coming year maneuvering for their position, and we have created an opportunity for other states to take a run at encroaching at the pre-window.”
But James Roosevelt, a Massachusetts committee member and co-chairman of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, praised the effort the committee had made to arrive at its decision.
“This has been a long process, but an open and a fair one,” said Roosevelt, who added that it had resulted from “extensive meetings, discussions, and research.”
“The new window shows that we are a party that adapts and grows,” he said.
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