Democratic primary updates: DNC votes to bump Iowa, move South Carolina to 1st in the nation

WASHINGTON – Democrats moved Friday to make South Carolina the first state to vote in the presidential primary and replace Iowa in a historic overhaul of the nomination process over objections from two states that signaled a fight still to come.

The Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee approved President Joe Biden’s proposal to upend a calendar that has historically started with Iowa’s caucuses to recognize the party's most reliable base: Black voters.

But Democratic leaders in New Hampshire and Iowa weren't ready to accept the plan, even as DNC leaders warned states that don’t follow the party’s rules could face punishment. That includes losing delegates at the Democratic National Convention and forbidding candidates running for the party's nomination from campaigning in the violating state.

"We will always hold the first in the nation primary, and this status is independent of the president’s proposal or any political organization," said U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.

The 2024 calendar approved by the committee begins with South Carolina voting Feb. 3, New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 20 and Michigan on Feb. 27.

The president's choice: Biden recommends South Carolina go first in Democratic primary process, replacing Iowa

The committee's vote sends the proposal to the full DNC, which will take up the changes early next year.

The calendar fight is a test of Biden’s strength within his own party after he took a risk by injecting himself into what was already a fierce fight among Democrats.

Biden, in a letter ahead of the meeting, urged Democrats to give Black voters a “louder and earlier voice” in the primary by elevating heavily African American South Carolina, a state that was crucial to his 2020 presidential nomination.

“I’m so proud that we're going to hear from more voices — voices of those who simply yearn to be heard. To be seen,” said committee member Donna Brazile, a former acting chair of the DNC.

Democrats from New Hampshire and Iowa were the only committee members to reject the plan in a voice vote. Nevada Democrats argued their state should go first but ultimately voted for the new calendar.

Democrats in New Hampshire, which has historically voted after Iowa with the first-of-the-nation primary, said they’re entitled to the first slot because of state law. Nevada Democrats pointed to their heavy Latino and union populations and emergence as a critical battleground state in the West to argue they should be moved to top billing.

Here's what happened:

  • Democrats voted for Biden's proposed order of early states: South Carolina, then Nevada and New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan. It removes Iowa from the group of early states.

  • Most DNC committee members voiced support for the plan, arguing it would allow Democrats to begin the nomination process with their most loyal base – Black voters – before expanding geographically and to states with other demographic strengths.

  • Backlash has already begun. Democrats from New Hampshire and Iowa have said they will go first regardless of Biden’s proposal.

  • One of the most impassioned cases for Biden's plan came from Brazile, who said choosing South Carolina would allow Democrats to hear from "voices of those who simply yearn to be heard, to be seen.”

Republicans have already set their 2024 presidential nominating calendar, keeping Iowa first.

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We're covering all the twists and turns of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee as they meet in Washington, D.C. Follow us here to learn the latest: 

The rules and bylaws committee of the Democratic National Committee gather for three days of meetings in Washington to vote on the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.
The rules and bylaws committee of the Democratic National Committee gather for three days of meetings in Washington to vote on the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.

Democrats add rules for New Hampshire to remain in early primary window

The new calendar is contingent on the states certifying by Jan. 5 that they made necessary statutory changes to hold primaries on the dates assigned by the committee.

For New Hampshire, the DNC adopted additional rules for it to remain in the early-voting window.

New Hampshire, which restricts mail voting, must expand the option to all voters. And the state's governor, Senate majority leader and House majority leader — all Republicans — must provide signed letters in support of the necessary changes in law to hold the primary on its prescribed date.

White House: Biden’s proposal shows diversity is a ‘foundational principle’

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that Biden believes diversity in voting is a “foundational principle” and helped lead to his proposal to the DNC on the voting calendar.

Jean-Pierre noted that following the 2020 New Hampshire primary – which Biden finished last in – the then-candidate made clear that “respecting our diversity as a nation and breaking down barriers for all our people is a ... foundational principle.”

“He believes that's what Democrats in office stand for, and he has upheld the principle as president,” Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre declined to give a timeline or whether the president consulted with anyone when it came to his proposal to the DNC.

– Rebecca Morin

‘Nevada must stand alone,’ DNC member says

DNC member Artie Blanco, who is representing Nevada, said she believes the state should not share a primary date with another state.

Under Biden’s proposal, New Hampshire and Nevada would go on the same date: Feb. 13. She requested that instead, South Carolina hold its contest on Feb. 3 while Nevada holds it on Feb. 6, saying it would still be in line with the president’s request.

Blanco added that having Nevada go on its own date, will help build a stronger relationship with Latino voters.

“If we want to build a stronger relationship with Latinos, or as someone said, build their loyalty to the Democratic Party, then Nevada must stand alone on a date and not have to share that fate,” Blanco said.

– Rebecca Morin

Scott Brennan, a member from Iowa of the Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee, left, speaks with a member from New Hampshire Joanne Dowdell before a meeting in Washington regarding the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first in the nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.
Scott Brennan, a member from Iowa of the Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee, left, speaks with a member from New Hampshire Joanne Dowdell before a meeting in Washington regarding the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first in the nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.

Brazile: Biden’s proposal allows to hear from ‘more voices’ like ‘people who live on dirt roads’

Longtime Democratic strategist Donna Brazile made a powerful case for Biden’s proposal, saying that if approved, it will allow “to hear from more voices, voices of those who simply yearn to be heard, to be seen.”

In an impassioned plea, Brazile said that changes in the voting calendar will allow people to hear from a wide array of voters, like “people who live on dirt roads.”

“Do you know what it's like to live on a dirt road? Do you know what it's like to try to find running water that is clean? Do you know what it's like to wait and see if the storms gonna pass you by and your roof is still intact?” Brazile said. “That's what this is about.”

Brazile noted that when she was first born, “this party did not see me, folks.” She said when they first added states like South Carolina and Nevada to the early voting state window, it secured Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

"I can talk about this because I lived this party,” she said.

She added that she’s going to stand by the president and his proposal.

“I'm not going to abandon a president who is winning for the American people,” she said. “I'm not going to abandon a president who said let's go on the dirt road. I'm not going to abandon the president who said ‘let's see what we don't see.’”

– Rebecca Morin

Michigan's Macomb County gets notice at hearing

Michigan’s Macomb County, long known as a political bellwether, got a shoutout at the Democrats’ Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting as members debated a plan by Biden to move the state into the list of early primary contests.

One member from Massachuse, Elaine Kamarck, said the proposed calendar – which would put South Carolina first, to be followed by Nevada and New Hampshire, Georgia and then Michigan – is a “gauntlet” that should show whether the eventual nominee can perform with different voters, rural, urban and suburban.

“(The candidates will) need to show that when we get to Michigan… we can not only win in Detroit but that we can win in Macomb County,” she said. Kamarck noted the party’s difficulty in some elections swaying working-class voters like those who make up much of the county, calling it “the epitome of the weakness of the Democratic Party.”

“We need to show we can win back Macomb County,” she said.

Biden, by the way, lost Macomb County in 2020 while still winning Michigan over former President Donald Trump but he did far better there than Hillary Clinton had in 2016.

–Todd Spangler

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talks to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., at a primary night election rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 29, 2020, after winning the South Carolina primary.
Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talks to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., at a primary night election rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 29, 2020, after winning the South Carolina primary.

DNC rules co-chair to discuss punishment for states who don’t follow rules

Minyon Moore, co-chair for the Rules and Bylaws Committee in the DNC, said Friday the committee will discuss punishments for states who do not follow the rules after they break for lunch.

When asked about whether there will be waivers for states who will go first and if there will be a deadline for those states to act, Moore said: “There is, and we’re going to have a little bit more discussion about this after lunch.”

– Rebecca Morin

Biden’s early voting state proposal ‘reflects our values,’ DNC rules co-chair says

The DNC's co-chair for the Rules and Bylaws Committee said Biden's proposal for the early voting states "reflects our values" and will lead to the best Democratic nominee.

According to Biden's proposal, the dates include: South Carolina on Feb. 6; Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 13, Georgia on Feb. 20; and Michigan on Feb. 27.

“We feel strongly that this window that reflects our values, paints a vibrant picture of our nation and creates a strong process that will result in the best Democratic nominee,” said Minyon Moore, co-chair for Rules and Bylaws Committee. “I agree with the president that this is a bold window that reflects the values of our party and it is a window worth fighting for.”

– Rebecca Morin

Biden was open to South Carolina hosting first primary after 2020 victory

After Biden’s 2020 primary victory in South Carolina, the state where he netted his first win, he discussed having the state host the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary.

“I think he agreed that this was a much more dynamic process,” Dick Harpootlian, former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told the Associated Press. “Iowa was just a nightmare.”

– Ken Tran, Associated Press

Democratic National Committee chair Jamie Harrison attends a rules and bylaws committee meeting in Washington regarding a vote on the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.
Democratic National Committee chair Jamie Harrison attends a rules and bylaws committee meeting in Washington regarding a vote on the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.

New Hampshire Democrats say it will keep first 'regardless'

New Hampshire Democrats are not reacting kindly to Biden's call that would put them second, along with Nevada, to South Carolina. They are vowing the Granite State's primary will go first, in accordance with state law, regardless of what the Democratic National Committee decides.

“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away," said Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democrats. "We have survived past attempts over the decades and we will survive this."

Biden placed fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, leaving the state for South Carolina on primary night before results were announced.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both New Hampshire Democrats, also used strong words in defense of the first-in-the-nation primary.

In a statement released Thursday, Shaheen called the White House’s proposal a "short-sighted decision risks splintering attention from candidates, denying voters crucial opportunities to connect with candidates and hear their visions and policy priorities.”

Hassan said, "We will always hold the first in the nation primary, and this status is independent of the president’s proposal or any political organization.”

Rep. Annie Kuster echoed the defense of New Hampshire holding on to its first-in-the-nation status.

“Because of its size, geography, and political participation, New Hampshire is perfectly-situated to host the FITN primary,” she said in a statement Thursday.

– Rebecca Morin and Glenn Sabalewski

Biden wants South Carolina to replace Iowa as first in the nation in selection process

Biden finally weighed in on the selection process Thursday, recommending a massive overhaul of the presidential nominating calendar that would have South Carolina replace Iowa in the leadoff position and elevate Michigan and Georgia into the mix.

Biden has proposed that South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan make up the early voting window.

"Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process," Biden said in a letter dated Dec. 1 to the committee. "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."

President Joe Biden speaks about manufacturing jobs and the economy at SK Siltron CSS, a computer chip factory in Bay City, Mich., on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden speaks about manufacturing jobs and the economy at SK Siltron CSS, a computer chip factory in Bay City, Mich., on Tuesday.

The development chagrined Iowa Democrats.

“Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process," Iowa Democratic Party chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement. "Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation."

Iowa Republicans to Iowa Democrats: Fight for the caucuses

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann is calling on senior Iowa Democrats to speak up in defense of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

So far, major party figures such as former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have not publicly defended Iowa’s caucuses or their place on the nominating calendar.

"On the Republican side, Republican officials and I worked as a team to ensure that the longstanding tradition of the Iowa caucuses was preserved," Kaufmann wrote in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register. "But Republicans cannot help save this process for Democrats."

Scott Brennan participates in a Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee meeting in Washington on Friday. The committee is gathered for three days of meetings to vote on the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.
Scott Brennan participates in a Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee meeting in Washington on Friday. The committee is gathered for three days of meetings to vote on the order of the presidential nominating calendar and the fate of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The DNC may potentially elevate states like Michigan ahead of Iowa, which has traditionally held the first caucus in the nation.

Although Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn has promised to “fight like hell” to protect the caucuses, many rank-and-file Iowa Democrats have approached the issue with more of a collective shoulder shrug.

An October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed a majority of Iowans say it would be best for Iowa to continue holding the first presidential nominating contest, though a growing share says it would be better if some other state or states took over.

That sentiment is more pronounced among Democrats, the poll showed.

Rules committee gathers in Washington with no signal yet from the White House

Members of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee began gathering in Washington, D.C., Thursday evening, attending a private dinner before public meetings are set to begin Friday.

The committee is expected to make a proposal this week that will reshuffle the presidential nominating calendar after months of hearings and deliberations.

The entrance to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington on June 14, 2016.
The entrance to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington on June 14, 2016.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DNC close to give Biden a 'yes', approving South Carolina as first