September 22, 2023


Let's Get It!

Change to Democratic party primary calendar? Iowa could lose top spot

8 min read

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has a simple message for the Democratic National Committee: Black voters matter.

The president Thursday recommended a massive overhaul to the presidential nominating calendar, calling on South Carolina to become the first state as part of the process. South Carolina was key in electing Biden, with its large Black voter population reigniting then-candidate Biden’s campaign and catapulting him to the presidency.

The president’s plan would knock Iowa out of its leadoff position and elevate Michigan and Georgia, which have a more diverse voter electorate than Iowa and a large Black voter population. Biden during the 2020 election also flipped both Michigan and Georgia.

What does it take to be first?: These states want to replace Iowa on the presidential calendar

“For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” Biden said in a letter to the DNC. “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.”

Here’s what’s happened so far:

  • President Joe Biden weighed in Thursday, giving a strong indication of where the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is headed.
  • According to Biden’s proposal, the new primary dates include: South Carolina on Feb. 6; Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 13, Georgia on Feb. 20; and Michigan on Feb. 27.
  • The group has meetings scheduled all day Friday and Saturday to discuss the proposal, which replaces Iowa in the leadoff spot.  
  • Backlash has already begun. New Hampshire and Iowa have said they will go first regardless of Biden’s proposal.

Republicans have already set their 2024 presidential nominating calendar, keeping Iowa first. 

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We’re covering all the twists and turns of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee as they meet in Washington, D.C. Follow us here to learn the latest: 

DNC member Artie Blanco, who is representing Nevada, said she believes the state should not share a primary date with another state.

Under Biden’s proposal, New Hampshire and Nevada would go on the same date: Feb. 13. She requested that instead, South Carolina hold its contest on Feb. 3 while Nevada holds it on Feb. 6, saying it would still be in line with the president’s request.

Blanco added that having Nevada go on its own date, will help build a stronger relationship with Latino voters.

“If we want to build a stronger relationship with Latinos, or as someone said, build their loyalty to the Democratic Party, then Nevada must stand alone on a date and not have to share that fate,” Blanco said.

— Rebecca Morin

Longtime Democratic strategist Donna Brazile made a powerful case for Biden’s proposal, saying that if approved, it will allow “to hear from more voices, voices of those who simply yearn to be heard, to be seen.”

In an impassioned plea, Brazile said that changes in the voting calendar will allow to hear from a wide array of voters, like “people who live on dirt roads.”

“Do you know what it’s like to live on a dirt road? Do you know what it’s like to try to find running water that is clean? Do you know what it’s like to wait and see if the storms gonna pass you by and your roof is still intact?” Brazile said. “That’s what this is about.”

Brazile noted that when she was first born, “this party did not see me, folks.” She said when they first added states like South Carolina and Nevada to the early voting state window, it secured Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

“I can talk about this because I lived this party,” she said.

She added that she’s going to stand by the president and his proposal.

“I’m not going to abandon a president who is winning for the American people,” she said. “I’m not going to abandon a president who said let’s go on the dirt road. I’m not going to abandon the president who said ‘let’s see what we don’t see.’”

— Rebecca Morin

Michigan members weigh in

Michigan’s Macomb County, long known as a political bellwether, got a shoutout at the Democrats’ Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting as members debated a plan by Biden to move the state into the list of early primary contests.

One member, Elaine Kamarck, said the proposed calendar – which would put South Carolina first, to be followed by Nevada and New Hampshire, Georgia and then Michigan – is a “gauntlet” that should show whether the eventual nominee can perform with different voters, rural, urban and suburban.

“(The candidates will) need to show that when we get to Michigan… we can not only win in Detroit but that we can win in Macomb County,” she said. Kamarck noted the party’s difficulty in some elections swaying working class voters like those who make up much of the county, calling it “the epitome of the weakness of the Democratic Party.”

“We need to show we can win back Macomb County,” she said.

Biden, by the way, lost Macomb County in 2020 while still winning Michigan over former President Donald Trump but he did far better there than Hillary Clinton had in 2016.

— Todd Spangler

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talks to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., at a primary night election rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 29, 2020 after winning the South Carolina primary.

Minyon Moore, co-chair for the Rules and Bylaws Committee in the DNC, said Friday the committee will discuss punishments for states who do not follow the rules after they break for lunch.

When asked about whether there will be waivers for states who will go first and if there will be a deadline for those states to act, Moore said: “There is, and we’re going to have a little bit more discussion about this after lunch.”

— Rebecca Morin

The DNC’s co-chair for Rules and Bylaws Committee said Biden’s proposal for the early voting states “reflects our values” and will lead to the best Democratic nominee.

According to Biden’s proposal, the dates include: South Carolina on Feb. 6; Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 13, Georgia on Feb. 20; and Michigan on Feb. 27.

“We feel strongly that this window that reflects our values, paints a vibrant picture of our nation and creates a strong process that will result in the best Democratic nominee,” said Minyon Moore, co-chair for Rules and Bylaws Committee. “I agree with the President that this is a bold window that reflects the values of our party and it is a window worth fighting for.”

— Rebecca Morin

After Biden’s 2020 primary victory in South Carolina, the state where he netted his first win, he discussed having the state host the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary.

“I think he agreed that this was a much more dynamic process,” Dick Harpootlian, former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told the Associated Press. “Iowa was just a nightmare.”  

— Ken Tran, Associated Press

New Hampshire Democrats are not reacting kindly to Biden’s call that would put them second, along with Nevada, to South Carolina. They are vowing the Granite State’s primary will go first, in accordance with state law, regardless of what the Democratic National Committee decides.

“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away,” said Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democrats. “We have survived past attempts over the decades and we will survive this.”

Biden placed fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, leaving the state for South Carolina on primary night, before results were announced.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both New Hampshire Democrats, also used strong words in defense of the first-in-the-nation primary.

In a statement released Thursday, Shaheen called the White House’s proposal a “short-sighted decision risks splintering attention from candidates, denying voters crucial opportunities to connect with candidates and hear their visions and policy priorities.”

Hassan said, “We will always hold the first in the nation primary, and this status is independent of the president’s proposal or any political organization.”

Rep. Annie Kuster echoed the defense of New Hampshire holding on to its first-in-the-nation status.

“Because of its size, geography, and political participation, New Hampshire is perfectly-situated to host the FITN primary,” she said in a statement Thursday.

— Rebecca Morin and Glenn Sabalewski

President Joe Biden finally weighed in on the selection process Thursday, recommending a massive overhaul of the presidential nominating calendar that would have South Carolina replace Iowa in the leadoff position and elevate Michigan and Georgia into the mix.

Biden has proposed that South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan make up the early voting window.

“Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process,” Biden said in a letter dated Dec. 1 to the committee. “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.”

President Joe Biden speaks about manufacturing jobs and the economy at SK Siltron CSS, a computer chip factory in Bay City, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.

The development chagrined Iowa Democrats.

“Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process,” Iowa Democratic Party chair Ross Wilburn said in a 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.” 

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann is calling on senior Iowa Democrats to speak up in defense of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

So far, major party figures such as former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have not publicly defended Iowa’s caucuses or their place on the nominating calendar.

“On the Republican side, Republican officials and I worked as a team to ensure that the longstanding tradition of the Iowa caucuses was preserved,” Kaufmann wrote in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register. “But Republicans cannot help save this process for Democrats.”

Scott Brennan participates in a Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee meeting in Washington on Dec. 2, 2022.  The committee is gathered for three days of meetings to vote on the order of presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first in the nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.

Although Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn has promised to “fight like hell” to protect the caucuses, many rank-and-file Iowa Democrats have approached the issue with more of a collective shoulder shrug.

An October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed a majority of Iowans say it would be best for Iowa to continue holding the first presidential nominating contest, though a growing share says it would be better if some other state or states took over.

That sentiment is more pronounced among Democrats, the poll showed.

Members of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee began gathering in Washington, D.C., Thursday evening, attending a private dinner before public meetings are set to begin Friday. 

The committee is expected to make a proposal this week that will reshuffle the presidential nominating calendar after months of hearings and deliberations. 

The entrance to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington on June 14, 2016.

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