Democrats approve 2024 primary calendar that demotes Iowa, boosts South Carolina

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PHILADELPHIA — Democrats on Saturday approved a plan to reorder their 2024 presidential primary calendar in an effort to amplify diverse voices earlier in the presidential selection process.

Overruling objections from two states that have traditionally held the first contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, the national party green-lit a schedule that moves South Carolina to the front of the line.

The revamped calendar elevates Nevada to the second position alongside New Hampshire and welcomes Georgia and Michigan to the early primary window for the first time.

Iowa's caucus, which has traditionally served as the starting-gun for the presidential election, is being displaced.

"This calendar does what is long overdue," Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison told party members before the vote. "It expands the number of voices in the early window, and it elevates diverse communities that are at the core of the Democratic Party."

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The changes Democrats approved on Saturday will only apply to 2024. Committee members have vowed to revisit the calendar before the 2028 election.

New Hampshire Democrats aggressively fought the shift, arguing ahead of the meeting that they are unable to change a state law that requires them to hold the first primary. They also warned that the changes could harm President Joe Biden's expected reelection effort.

Democrats are in the minority in the New Hampshire state legislature, and Republicans in power are unwilling to adjust the law.

"Respecting our state law and lifting up diverse voices need not be mutually exclusive," said Joanne Dowdell, a DNC member speaking on behalf of New Hampshire.

Iowa also opposed the changes. Rita Hart, the newly-elected chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said her state faces difficulties in changing the date of its caucus and cannot support a calendar that could weaken Democrats in the state.

The eleventh-hour push was futile. Democrats easily approved the calendar, which Biden personally proposed, in a voice vote during a gathering in Philadelphia.

Biden's intervention

South Carolina was the first state that Biden won in 2020 after receiving an endorsement from veteran Democratic congressman Jim Clyburn.

Clyburn was instrumental in convincing party leaders to add South Carolina to the early window more than a decade ago but emphasized Saturday that making his home state first was Biden's proposal.

"I don't get hung up in that," Clyburn said in an interview. "If the president, who's the head of our party, feels a way about something, let's support the president."

Biden intervened to solve intra-party squabbling over the matter last year after Democrats postponed their decision on the line up until after the midterms. He pressed members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC in a December letter to adopt his recommended 2024 primary calendar.

Party officials who sit on the panel endorsed Biden's recommendations and directed South Carolina to hold its contest on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in an interview that the DNC panel had been discussing changes to the schedule before Biden weighed in.

"Now, clearly, the president had his ideas about what it looked like. But we were committed to having states up front that were representative of our country, representative of people of color, representative of states where the labor movement is strong, where we can bring those folks to the table," Saunders said. "It didn't happen overnight."

Biden steered clear of the dispute as he addressed DNC members during a Friday evening speech, where he was ushered on stage to chants of "four more years" and hinted at a reelection announcement.

'Emotional' moment:Inside Biden's rollout of Democratic primary lineup that moves up South Carolina

'No-win position'

DNC members were unfazed heading into Saturday's vote by Iowa and New Hampshire's arguments that they should continue to have the right to hold their contests first.

States that stand to gain from the calendar changes also refused to back down. Nevada stressed that its coalition helped deliver the U.S. Senate for Democrats in 2022 and reelected the only Latina senator in the nation.

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell emphasized her state's track record of picking presidents.

"The issues that are going to make the difference in the general election are going to be the issues are going to be discussed when they're in a state like Michigan, not when you're in a non diverse state like Iowa," Dingell said in an interview before the vote.

'We're going first no matter what': NH governor rules out idea of moving presidential primary

States that go against the DNC risk losing delegates to the national convention, and Biden, should he run for a second term, would be sanctioned if he appears on their primary ballots.

"You can have a primary (where) nobody shows up," South Carolina party chair Trav Robertson told USA TODAY. "I mean, if you have a party, and nobody shows up, it's not a hell of a party."

Ray Buckley, the chair of New Hampshire's state party, told reporters during a Friday press conference in Philadelphia that the political dynamic in the state leaves Democrats in an "impossible, no-win position."

"New Hampshire will still hold the first-in-the nation primary, whether or not the DNC approves of it or not," Buckley said.

At a January meeting, the Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to give New Hampshire and Georgia more time to meet the requirements to hold early contests after both states missed an initial deadline.

Georgia Democrats are negotiating with Republicans in the state to move up their primary date, but unlike New Hampshire, the only penalty they face for failing to make the change is having a later contest.

Harrison said Georgia is "working very hard" on the date change. "They know their state, they know what they've got to do in order to make it happen," he said in an interview. "I have a lot of trust that they will navigate the process."

State party chair and Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams has been stressing the economic benefits to moving the primary up in her conversations with Republicans.

"We've shown that with investments, Georgia is a true battleground state. And we are ready to meet the moment. Georgia has a history of stepping up in big moments, and we're ready to do it again," Williams told USA TODAY.

The Republican National Committee said in a Saturday statement the the decision by Democrats would "cause chaos" and accused them of "abandoning" voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Scott Brennan, a DNC member from Iowa who sits on the RBC, said the calendar was "dropped" on party members and that "a situation of continued uncertainty" would almost certainly drag on throughout 2023, because of outstanding issues with New Hampshire and Georgia.

"We will leave here with absolutely nothing settled," Brennan said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dems boost South Carolina, anger N.H., with 2024 primary calendar