Report: Biden says South Carolina should be first primary state, Michigan first in Midwest

By: and - December 1, 2022 7:56 pm

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at Simpson College in Indianola Oct. 20, 2019, while campaigning for the 2020 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

By Jane Norman and Robin Opsahl

WASHINGTON — While President Joe Biden is reportedly recommending to the Democratic National Committee that South Carolina become the first primary state in the presidential nominating process in 2024, Iowa Democratic Chair Ross Wilburn said the state party is still beholden to Iowa law requiring it hold the first presidential nominating contest.

The Iowa Democrat said that the state party will submit its delegate selection plan to the DNC Rules & Bylaws committee in 2023, but will follow the state of Iowa’s laws and “address compliance with DNC rules in subsequent meetings and hearings.”

In the president’s proposal, South Carolina would be first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada a week later, the Washington Post reported on Thursday night. Georgia and Michigan would follow next, with Michigan becoming the dominant player in the Midwest under the new calendar that Biden has requested be put in place, the Post said.

The DNC late Thursday released a letter from the president that he has sent to members of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, which is scheduled to begin a two-day meeting on Friday morning to review its 2024 primary and caucus calendar. 

In the letter, Biden does not specify the order in which states should participate in the nominating process. But he does emphasize a much larger early role for states with diverse populations, a quality that the committee has also said would influence its selection. 

South Carolina in the leadoff role would represent a huge shakeup from the past, when Iowa has attracted months of publicity and candidate spending for its first-in-the-nation caucuses. 

New Hampshire traditionally has held the first primary a week later. Both states have overwhelmingly white populations.

“We must ensure that voters of color have a choice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” Biden wrote the DNC. 

“As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color — and that includes Black, Brown and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters.”

He added: “For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process. We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.

In a clear swipe at Iowa, Biden also said in the letter that “our party should no longer allow caucuses to be part of our nominating process” because caucuses, with their long hours and public scrutiny of candidate choices, “are inherently anti-participatory.” 

While Democratic leaders have long criticized the caucuses for not being accessible, criticisms grew following the 2020 Iowa caucuses where technical problems caused delays in reporting. While the results in Iowa and New Hampshire often reflect the future winner of the presidential nominating process, Biden did not win a nomination contest in the 2020 cycle until South Carolina.

Wilburn said it was “disappointing” to see Biden’s statement in light of the reforms the state party proposed to address concerns about the caucuses. Iowa Democrats shared plans to move to a mailed presidential preference card system in presentations to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which they argued would address the issues marginalized groups face participating in the current caucus system.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, state Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said: “We have always said that any road to the White House goes through the heartland and President Biden understands that.”

Biden in his letter said, “I got into politics because of civil rights and the possibility to change our imperfect union into something better. For fifty years, the first month of our presidential nominating process has been a treasured part of our democratic process, but it is time to update the process for the 21st century.”

He also said the Rules and Bylaws Committee should review the calendar every four years.

New Hampshire Democrats pushed back strongly Thursday night against the notion their place in the lineup would change, pointing out state law mandates their primary is first in the nation.

“The DNC did not give New Hampshire the first-in-the-nation primary and it is not theirs to take away,” said New Hampshire Democratic Chair Ray Buckley. “This news is obviously disappointing, but we will be holding our primary first. We have survived past attempts over the decades and we will survive this. Our first-in-the-nation primary has been an integral part of our state’s history for over 100 years, and is enshrined in state law.”

The new 2024 plan would have to be approved by the Rules and Bylaws Committee as well as the full DNC. 

The panel decided earlier this year to strip Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina of their traditional leading positions and require them to compete with other states for the coveted spots. ​​

The committee heard presentations in June from 16 states and Puerto Rico about why they should hold early contests, which could set the course for the nominating cycle. The DNC has said it would evaluate states based on their diversity, competitiveness, and feasibility.



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Jane Norman
Jane Norman

As the Washington Bureau Chief of States Newsroom, Jane directs national coverage, managing staff and freelance reporters in the nation’s capital and assigning and editing state-specific daily and enterprise stories. Jane is a veteran of more than three decades in journalism.

Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.