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Biden, demoting Iowa and prizing diversity, wants South Carolina as first primary

U.S. President Joe Biden answers a question during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House during an official state visit on December 01, 2022 in Washington, DC.Kevin Dietsch/Getty

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee are moving to radically reorder the party’s presidential process by making South Carolina the first primary state in 2024, followed in order by Nevada and New Hampshire, Georgia and then Michigan.

The plan, announced by party officials at a dinner Thursday in Washington, signals the end of Iowa’s long tenure as the Democrats’ first nominating contest.

The proposed new lineup, reported first by The Washington Post, reflects Biden’s own political trajectory: After he came in fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire in 2020, he turned his campaign around in South Carolina and won the nomination on his strength in more diverse states whose elections were later in the year.

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“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,” Biden wrote in a letter Thursday to members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. “Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process. 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.”

The letter went on to note bluntly, “Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process.” Iowa is a caucus state and does not hold a primary.

The early-state order is subject to approval by the Rules and Bylaws Committee and then by the full DNC early next year, and there may be technical and legal considerations for some of the states. But the president’s preferences will carry enormous weight with a group that often functions as the White House political arm. Biden urged the Rules and Bylaws Committee to review the calendar every four years “to ensure that it continues to reflect the values and diversity of our party and our country.”

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After Iowa’s disastrous 2020 Democratic caucuses, in which the state struggled for days to deliver results, the DNC embarked on a protracted effort to reassess how the party picks its presidential candidates. It invited states to apply to host the kickoff primary amid concerns that Iowa, and to some extent New Hampshire, did not reflect the Democratic Party’s diversity. The initiative led to an intense public and private lobbying effort involving high-ranking party and elected officials up and down the ballot.

The current leadoff states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, in that order, chosen to represent the four major regions of the country: the Midwest, Northeast, West and South.

Discussions throughout the process have involved several core questions: whether to replace Iowa, and if so, with either Michigan or Minnesota; the order of the early states, as Nevada sought to displace New Hampshire in the first-in-the-nation primary; and whether a fifth state should be added to the early cluster, although it is not uncertain how serious the conversations are around adding another state.

Earlier this year, the committee adopted a framework that emphasized racial, ethnic, geographic and economic diversity and labor representation; raised questions about feasibility; and stressed the importance of general election competitiveness.

Some DNC members worried — and Minnesota Democrats have argued — that having a large and expensive state like Michigan host a primary early in the nominating process could lead well-funded candidates to essentially camp out there and ignore the other states on the calendar.

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That concern is less urgent, though, if Biden runs for reelection. He has said that he intends to run but plans to discuss the race with his family over the holidays and could announce a decision early next year.

Some Democrats have long been intrigued by the idea of promoting Michigan, a critical general election state that is home to diverse voter constituencies and a major labor presence, and the Democratic sweep in the state in this year’s midterm elections helped bolster the case.

Earlier this week, the Michigan state Senate voted to move the primary up, from the second Tuesday in March to the second Tuesday in February. And a senior Michigan Democratic official who spoke with the White House this week came away feeling that the Biden team was positively inclined toward Michigan’s bid to become an early presidential primary state.