Democrats Move Forward with Plan to Make South Carolina First Primary State

Democrats moved toward making the most significant changes in the presidential nominating process in nearly two decades after an important committee backed a plan put forward by President Biden that would allow South Carolina to host the first primary in 2024. New Hampshire and Nevada would closely follow South Carolina on the same day, then Georgia and Michigan. 

The changes in primary dates would dramatically decrease the influence of Iowa. Iowa has held the first nominating caucus in five decades while increasing the importance of the roles of several states that are historically battlegrounds in general elections. 

The change would also reduce the overall importance of New Hampshire, the host of the U.S.’s traditional first presidential primary. The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee recently approved a 2024 plan to kick off the process on February 3 in South Carolina, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on February 5, Georgia on February 13, and Michigan on February 27. The dates would be before “Super Tuesday” in March, when numerous other states hold primaries. Contests throughout the spring months follow Super Tuesday. 

The only no votes were cast by members from New Hampshire and Iowa out of 30 members. The proposal would face legal hurdles in Republican-controlled states, including Georgia, and is expected to get approval from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the winter meeting in Philadelphia, scheduled for early February.

The move is considered a reward for South Carolina, a state that helped renew Biden’s 2020 campaign during the primaries. South Carolina is the home of the DNC’s chairman, Jaime Harrison.

Party leaders from New Hampshire, whose status as first in the nation primary is guaranteed in state law, and Iowa, where Biden hasn’t performed well during his entire political career, have suggested they would move forward with their contests as scheduled despite any decision by the DNC, possibly triggering penalties. 

“New Hampshire does have a statute, we do have a law, and we will not be breaking our law,” Rules and Bylaws Committee member from New Hampshire Joanne Dowdell said. 

The president has said he intends to seek re-election and has signaled plans to make a formal announcement sometime in the new year. If Biden doesn’t face serious opposition, some primary changes may be seen in 2028. However, the DNC’s moves have shaken the established calendar process. They could set in motion future fights over the order of states following Iowa and New Hampshire, who have held the top spots for almost a half-century.

Biden: Change needed to ensure “voters of color have a voice”

In a letter to committee members, Biden said the party needed to ensure that “voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process” and issued a blow to Iowa’s caucuses by saying party caucuses should not be included because they hurt hourly workers. Iowa previously said it could address those concerns by having a vote-by-mail option.

Rules and Bylaws Committee member from Iowa, Scott Brennan, said the possible actions would further harm Democrats in rural areas of America and warned that adding larger states like Michigan and Georgia would significantly alter the playing field by benefitting “front-runners and billionaire candidates” who can advertise heavily.

Brennan said New Hampshire and Iowa would likely move forward with contests not sanctioned by the national party, creating uncertainty in the voting process. Brennan said the changes could benefit Republicans, who will compete in Iowa’s leadoff Republican caucuses beginning next year. 

Officials in New Hampshire noted the state’s primary is organized by the state’s government, not political parties, and state law mandates the state is the nation’s first to hold a primary.

“We’ll have first-in-the-nation and whatever sanctions they have, so be it,” said chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Ray Buckley. During the meeting, penalties for states that try to leapfrog states holding contests in the early window were discussed, along with access to voter databases and debates, from candidates campaigning in unsanctioned states. 

States who choose to break the rules could also be penalized by losing seats at the 2024 national convention. For example, in 2024, the party stripped Florida and Michigan of delegate votes at the national convention after the two states held their contests ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Despite objections, changes to the calendar had broad support from committee members, as many are loyalists to President Biden and his top aides. They said the changes to the calendar would reflect its diversity and strengthen the party. 

“It is time to change because the country has changed,” said Democrat strategist Maria Cardona.