The Democratic Party on Saturday approved the reordering of its 2024 presidential primary, replacing Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot as part of a major shake-up meant to empower Black and other minority voters critical to its base of support.
Although changes are still possible throughout the summer and beyond, the formal endorsement by the Democratic National Committee during its meeting in Philadelphia is an acknowledgement the start of the 2024 primary will look very different from the one in 2020.
States with early contests have a major influence in determining the nominee because White House hopefuls struggling to raise money or gain political traction often drop out before visiting states outside the first five.
The new plan has been championed by President Joe Biden, who is expected to formally announce his reelection campaign in the coming months. The reconfiguring would have South Carolina hold its primary Feb. 3, followed three days later by New Hampshire and Nevada, which is swapping the caucus it used to hold in favor of a primary.
Georgia would vote fourth Feb. 13, followed by Michigan on Feb. 27, with much of the rest of the nation set to vote on Super Tuesday in early March.
"The Democratic Party looks like America and so does this proposal," the party chairman, Jaime Harrison, said before the plan was approved.
It "elevates the backbone of our party," he said.
Biden himself had written the DNC rules committee in December, saying, "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." That committee approved the new lineup, setting the stage for Saturday's vote.
The move marks a dramatic shift from the current calendar, which saw Iowa start with its caucus, followed by New Hampshire and then Nevada and South Carolina. Four of the first five states under the new plan are battlegrounds, meaning the eventual party winner would be able to lay groundwork in important general election spots.
That is especially true for Michigan and Georgia, both of which voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 before flipping to Biden in 2020.
The exception is South Carolina, which has not backed a Democrat in a presidential race since 1976, leading some to argue the party should not be concentrating so many early primary resources there. But the state's population is nearly 27% Black, and African American voters represent Democrats' most consistent base of support. Iowa and New Hampshire are each more than 90% white.
"It shows that the president of the United States has demonstrated his respect for and appreciation of South Carolina," South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, assistant Democratic leader in the House and a close Biden ally, told The Associated Press.
The revamped calendar could be largely meaningless for 2024 because Biden is expected to run for a second term without a major primary challenge. Also, the DNC has already pledged to revisit the voting calendar before the 2028 presidential election.
Still, this year's changes could establish precedent, just as a new lineup that moved Nevada and South Carolina into the first states to vote did when the DNC approved a new primary calendar before the 2008 presidential election.
"These things may be symbolic, but they're realistic," Clyburn said, noting the party's typical revisiting of the calendar before each cycle. "This is not unusual."
The revamped order follows technical glitches that caused Iowa's 2020 caucus to meltdown. It also gives Biden the chance to repay South Carolina, where he scored a decisive 2020 primary win that revived his presidential campaign after losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Democrats have worked on overhauling their primary lineup for months. Sixteen states and Puerto Rico made presentations before the rules committee last summer on why each should be allowed to go first — or at least join the new top five.
Saturday's vote, which came during three days of DNC meetings, does not fully end the wrangling over the matter.
"We have created an opportunity for other states to take a run at the pre-window," said Scott Brennan, a rules committee member from Iowa.
South Carolina, Nevada, and Michigan have met party requirements to join the party's new top five. But in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said he would be unwilling to change his state's Democratic presidential primary without the GOP moving its primary, which has not yet happened.
New Hampshire has a state law mandating it hold the nation's first presidential primary, which Iowa circumvented since 1972 by holding a caucus. New Hampshire Democrats have joined with top state Republicans in pledging to go forward with the nation's first presidential primary next year regardless of the DNC calendar.
"The DNC is set to punish us despite the fact we don't have the ability to unilaterally change state law," said JoAnne Dowdell, a rules committee member from New Hampshire.
New Democrat rules include penalties for states that attempt to jump ahead of others, including possibly losing delegates to the party's national convention.
"Here's the reality, no one state should have a lock on going first," Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said.
No major challenger has yet emerged from his own party to run against Biden for president next year. Still, top New Hampshire Democrats have warned another Democrat could run in an unsanctioned primary the state stages and, if Biden skips it in accordance with party rules, could win and embarrass the president — prolonging a primary process that wasn't supposed to be competitive.
That's "something no one in this room wants to see," Dowdell said, though she warned it could happen.
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