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Democrats vote to move forward with Biden plan to put South Carolina first on 2024 primary calendar

<i>Matt Rourke/AP</i><br/>On December 2
Matt Rourke/AP
On December 2

By Kate Sullivan and Ethan Cohen, CNN

The rule-making arm of the Democratic National Committee on Friday voted to approve a proposal to drastically reshape the 2024 presidential nominating calendar and make South Carolina the first state to hold a primary, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on the same day a few days later, and then Georgia and Michigan before Super Tuesday.

President Joe Biden this week asked DNC leaders to adopt this early state lineup, which strips Iowa of its first-in-the-nation status. The proposal by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee needs to be approved at a full DNC meeting, which will take place early next year, and states will still need to set their own primary dates.

The DNC rules panel proposed that the 2024 presidential calendar schedule South Carolina’s primary on February 3, Nevada and New Hampshire’s contests on February 6, Georgia’s primary on February 13 and Michigan’s on February 27.

The proposal passed overwhelmingly, with the only objection coming from the members from Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa has gone first in the nominating process since 1972, while New Hampshire has held the first primary in the process since 1920.

Enacting these new dates could prove to be a steep challenge. Primary dates are set at the state level and each state has a different process. In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is responsible for selecting a single date to hold both the Democratic and Republican primaries. In Nevada, the proposed date aligns with a state law passed last year. But Democrats, who control the state legislature, still may have a hard time should they need to enact another law to change the date of their contest after their new Republican governor takes office next month. In South Carolina, each party is free to select their own primary date.

The new Democratic lineup would break with the Republican calendar, as the Republican National Committee voted earlier this year to reaffirm the early state lineup of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. That could cause conflict for the new states hoping to move up, as their Republican parties could risk sanctions from the national GOP if their state primaries are held too early.

New Hampshire and Iowa also have state laws that enshrine their early statuses.

Under the proposal adopted Friday, each of the five states selected have until January 5 to take steps toward changing their primary dates. If they don’t, they would give up the ability to hold an approved early contest.

Despite the logistical hurdles, almost all of the committee members who spoke on Friday praised the proposed changes and the diversification of the early-state slate.

“We hold on to traditions because they give us a sense of security sometimes,” said Donna Brazile, the former DNC chairwoman who sits on the rules panel. “Sometimes we hold on to traditions because they give us a foundation from which we grow. But as many of us know on this committee, we also believe that traditions can be passed down and transferred especially when you’re opening up new doors and you’re helping to expand the electorate so that every American can enjoy full citizenship.”

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison grew emotional Friday talking about what it would mean to have South Carolina, his home state, as the first primary state and the kind of voices such a move would elevate.

“Society called folks like my grandparents simple people and don’t always value them, don’t always cherish them, don’t always give them their roses,” Harrison said.

Comments made by committee members at Friday’s meeting made it clear that Biden’s expression of his preferences played a significant role in the process. Many members praised the letter the president sent to the DNC panel on Thursday that called for a new calendar to prioritize diverse states in the early lineup and to not allow caucuses, which he described as “inherently anti-participatory.” In addition to the letter, Biden’s proposed early-state line-up was announced to the committee members Thursday evening by the panel’s leaders, CNN has reported.

Elaine Kamarck, who represents Massachusetts on the committee, said: “That’s why I think the president’s proposal, which will be our proposal I dearly hope, is so on point. You start with your base but then you move to where you ask the question: Can our candidates win in these diverse swing states?”

But the proposal was also met with objection, particularly from the impacted states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status came under scrutiny after the chaos of the 2020 Iowa caucuses received widespread backlash. Beyond the issues with the 2020 caucuses, there has been pressure on the Democratic side to oust Iowa from its top slot because it is largely White and no longer considered a battleground state.

Iowa’s representative on the committee, Scott Brennan, forcefully denounced the move and was among the few members to vote against the proposal.

“While I support the guiding principles established by this committee and reinforced by the president, I cannot support the proposal before us,” Brennan said, arguing: “Small, rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process.”

Brennan said: “Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the Party for a generation.”

The DNC earlier this year approved a plan to prioritize diverse battleground states that choose to hold primaries, not caucuses, as it considers which states should hold early contests. It heard presentations over the summer from 16 states and Puerto Rico about either holding on to their early-state status or moving their primary up in the calendar ahead of Super Tuesday.

Committee member Joanne Dowdell, who represents New Hampshire, also voted against the proposal, which would strip New Hampshire of its first-in-the-nation primary status. That status, Dowdell noted, is protected by state law.

“I feel that the president of the United States has made a very bold statement about his vision for this country, the importance of diversity. I don’t think there is a person in this room that would argue with any of that. I will, however, say that New Hampshire does have a statute, we do have a law and we will not be breaking our law,” Dowdell told the committee. “And I feel that any lawyer in the room or around the table would agree that it is not in the best interest of this body to even suggest that we do that.”

This story and headline have been updated.

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