WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic National Committee panel voted Wednesday to give New Hampshire and Georgia more time to make changes that would allow both to be part of a revamped group of five states leading off the party's presidential primary starting next year.
But even as they voted 25-0 to extend the compliance deadline until June 3, members of the DNC rules committee complained about New Hampshire's ongoing feud with the national party because the new calendar would cost it the chance to hold the nation's first primary.
The fight underscores how the effort to shake up the Democratic presidential primary could turn increasingly bitter, even at a time when the party will be counting on staying unified as it tries to hold the White House and Senate in 2024.
The DNC rules committee voted last month to approve a plan championed by President Joe Biden that would strip Iowa’s caucus of its traditional post leading off the primary and replace it with South Carolina, which would open primary voting on Feb. 3. New Hampshire and Nevada would hold primaries together three days later, with Georgia's primary coming Feb. 13 and Michigan's two weeks later. Most of the rest of the country would subsequently vote on Super Tuesday in early March.
The Democrats’ proposed shakeup comes after Iowa’s 2020 caucus was marred by technical problems. Biden says the new proposed calendar better reflects his party’s deeply diverse electoral base, which relies heavily on African American voters.
The president is also seeking to reward South Carolina, where nearly 27% of the population is Black, after a decisive win there revived his 2020 presidential campaign following losses it suffered in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Those changes are set to be formally approved for next year's presidential race by the full DNC at its meeting next week in Philadelphia.
Nevada and South Carolina have already agreed to comply with the new calendar's requirements. In Michigan, moving the primary date requires an act of the Legislature. Democrats control both chambers in that state, but they would need Republican support to enact the change before the end of February 2024, so it's not yet clear when the proposed changes might be approved.
The greater sticking points have been New Hampshire and Georgia.
New Hampshire state law mandates that it hold the nation’s first primary — a rule Iowa was able to circumvent only because it held a caucus. Top New Hampshire Democrats say they've handled that responsibility successfully for more than a century and have vowed to simply jump the other states and lead off primary voting again in 2024, regardless of the DNC's new calendar.
In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sets his state's primary date. He has indicated he’d only be willing to move it if the Republican National Committee pushes to change the date of its Georgia primary, which hasn’t happened.
Wednesday’s vote gave Georgia and New Hampshire more time — but also saw committee members voice their frustrations with New Hampshire.
“I really do believe it is irresponsible, the statements being made in New Hampshire," said Lee Saunders, a rules committee member and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“I would just urge everybody to cool down a little bit,” Saunders said.
Rules committee member Leah Daughtry said she was “similarly taken aback and quite frankly shocked” by New Hampshire's objections to the new calendar. She also rejected that state's assertions that it shouldn't lose its place because of tradition stretching back more than a century.
“Hanging their argument on this 100-year-old privilege is really, for me as an African American woman, really quite disturbing,” Daughtry said, noting that Black women didn't have the right to vote about a century ago.
Rules committee member JoAnne Dowdell from New Hampshire countered that “politics is part of our DNA.”
“We believe it is possible to lift up diverse voices and keep New Hampshire at the start of the process," Dowdell said.
The Democrats’ 2024 primary calendar could be moot if Biden opts to run for reelection, as expected. In that case, Democrats will have little appetite for building out a robust primary schedule that could allow a major challenger from his own party to run against the president.
The DNC rules committee also has already pledged to revisit the primary calendar after 2024. Still, any changes it makes for next year — even if there is ultimately no competitive primary — could help shape future decisions about which states go first, potentially triggering an important shift on where presidential candidates campaign hardest as future races begin.
Rules committee co-chair Minyon Moore said its members remain committed to “the president’s vision.”
“We want to make sure the states can have as much time as they need to work though this process,” Moore said.