Democratic National Committee Votes To Shake Up Primary Calendar, Elevating South Carolina

The DNC's decision also sets up a clash with New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation status is enshrined in state law.
The Democratic National Committee will follow President Joe Biden’s recommendation to have South Carolina vote first in the 2024 presidential primaries.
The Democratic National Committee will follow President Joe Biden’s recommendation to have South Carolina vote first in the 2024 presidential primaries.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted Saturday to follow President Joe Biden’s recommendation and drastically alter the party’s early presidential primary schedule, elevating South Carolina, sidelining Iowa and angering New Hampshire.

The new calendar passed by a voice vote at the DNC’s winter meeting in Philadelphia, signaling overwhelming support for Biden’s plan. This would amount to the largest shake-up in the presidential nominating process since then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter put Iowa caucuses on the political map in 1976.

Saturday’s vote was largely a formality after the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to approve the new schedule in early December.

It would also give early voting status to Michigan and Georgia for the first time, significantly increasing the racial and geographic diversity of the early-voting states. With Biden unlikely to face a significant primary challenge in 2024 ― and with the DNC likely to revisit the changes before the next primary in 2028 ― it’s unclear how much effect they will have.

Under the new calendar, Democratic primary voting would begin one year from this week. South Carolina would vote first on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.

But the elevation of South Carolina to first place has proved the most controversial, setting up a direct clash with New Hampshire. The Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary status is written into its state law, giving its secretary of state wide leeway to protect its prized status.

“You can try to come and take it, but that is never going to happen,” Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said in his inauguration speech last month. “It’s just not in our DNA to take orders from Washington. We will not be blackmailed. We will not be threatened, and we will not give up.”

Neither New Hampshire nor Georgia — both controlled by the GOP at the state level — is likely to switch their primary to align with the new calendar. So instead, the DNC will likely vote on whether to somehow sanction either state at its next meeting this summer.

In a statement after the vote, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley suggested the DNC was making a Biden victory in the state in 2024 “infinitely harder.”

“Despite today’s vote, the fight is not over. As we have repeatedly pointed out, New Hampshire law requires us to hold the first-in-the-nation primary, and state Republican leaders have made clear that will not change,” Buckley said. “We sincerely hope that the DNC will join us in understanding this reality and work with us to elect — not punish — Democrats in our state.”

Beyond New Hampshire, national progressives have also questioned South Carolina’s elevation, noting its deeply conservative electorate and history of fierce anti-union sentiment.

“South Carolina is already first in the nation at something that it shouldn’t be proud of; it is the lowest-density union state in America,” Faiz Shakir, the 2020 presidential campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in December. “It should thus never be in contention to be first on our calendar.”

Supporters of the changes argue they would empower South Carolina’s Black voters, rewarding the most loyal members of the Democratic base.

“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 wrote in a letter to DNC members in December. “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.”

Iowa, whose first-in-the-nation caucuses have long been derided as undemocratic and where voting went haywire in 2020, will no longer have a spot in the early voting calendar.

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