WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday that Democrats should ditch “restrictive” gatherings and prioritize diversity early in their presidential calendar — dealing a major blow to Iowa’s decades-long status as the state leading the process.
In a letter to the rulemaking arm of the Democratic National Committee, Biden didn’t mention any specific states he would like to see first. But he has told Democrats he wants to put South Carolina in the first position, according to three people familiar with his recommendation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private calls.
The president’s directive comes as the DNC rules committee meets in Washington Friday to vote on restructuring the presidential calendar beginning in 2024. Members now expect to approve new rules with South Carolina first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada the same day a week later.
Georgia and Michigan would move into the top 5 as new early states, and each would hold primaries in the following weeks, committee members say. The two battlegrounds were critical to Biden’s 2020 victory over then-President Donald Trump, who won both states in his 2016 White House campaign.
Much of the rest of the country would soon be voting as part of Super Tuesday.
Such changes will come after years of demands by many top Democrats that the voting calendar better reflect the party’s deeply diverse base than mainly white Iowa, which is holding the nation’s first caucus, and New Hampshire, which is holding the first primary. The new calendar would still need to be approved by the entire DNC in a vote expected to take place early next year, but the DNC will almost certainly heed the rulemaking body’s recommendations.
The proposed order of early states was first reported by the Washington Post.
“For decades, mostly black voters have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but were pushed back in the early primary process,” Biden wrote in a letter on personal stationery that did not bear the seal of the White House. “We rely on these voters in elections but have failed to recognize their importance in our nomination calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”
He said caucuses are “restrictive and anti-working class” because they require voters to devote “a significant amount of time” to a nightly gathering to personally select candidates, “which penalizes hourly workers and anyone who doesn’t have the flexibility to go to a set.” to go place at a set time.”
The changes could be implemented as early as 2024 but would be largely meaningless by 2028 if Biden opts for a second term. The president has said for months that he intends to run again, and White House staffers and Biden allies have begun personnel and structure discussions for his prospective 2024 bid, while backing away from open steps while the president weigh a final decision.
Such a shock would be staggering nonetheless, since Iowa’s caucus has led the Democratic election calendar since 1976. Still, it would come two years after a series of technical glitches that so tarnished party results that they prevented The Associated Press from declaring a Democratic party the Iowa 2020 Caucus winner.
In the current Democratic calendar, Iowa is followed by New Hampshire, which has held the country’s first primary since 1920. Nevada and South Carolina have followed since the 2008 presidential election, when the Democrats last carried out a major overhaul of the primary calendar.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has already decided to keep Iowa’s caucus as the first contest on its 2024 presidential calendar to ensure GOP hopefuls in the White House — which include Trump — will continue to campaign there frequently.
South Carolina is of particular importance to Biden. His victory in the state’s first Southern primary in 2020 kickstarted his presidential campaign en route to winning the Democratic nomination after poor results in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Biden ally, fundraiser and former South Carolina Democratic Party leader, said Thursday that he and Biden discussed South Carolina’s potential rise there on the night of Biden’s 2020 primary victory. Harpootlian said he impressed Biden that the state was a better place than Iowa to host an even earlier presidential campaign — which Harpootlian said Biden was receptive to.
“I think he agreed that this was a much more dynamic process,” Harpootlian said. “Iowa was just a nightmare.”
The DNC rules committee has been debating the early calendar reshuffle for months, sparking a bitter battle among many states to take first place. In a joint statement Thursday night, Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes and US Rep. Debbie Dingell said, “We’ve always said that every road to the White House is through the heartland, and President Biden understands that.”
But Biden’s wishes sparked anger in New Hampshire, where state law requires the nation’s first primary to be held and where officials had for months threatened to simply bring their election forward no matter what new rules the DNC approves. Other states have previously attempted to violate party rules and jump closer to the front lines, only to be threatened with having their delegates not counted among their chosen candidate securing the party’s nomination.
Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen issued a statement criticizing “the White House’s short-sighted decision,” while Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan said, “I reject the President’s deeply misguided proposal.” decided.
“But make no mistake,” Hassan said in a statement. “New Hampshire law is clear and our elementary school will continue to be first in the nation.”