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PHILADELPHIA – The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is expected to vote Saturday to dramatically alter the top of its presidential nominating calendar for the 2024 election cycle, bumping Iowa and New Hampshire from their longtime leadoff positions.
The push by the DNC — to alter its primary calendar to give more representation at the top of the schedule to Black and Hispanic voters in a party that’s become increasingly diverse in recent decades — has been vigorously fought by New Hampshire, which for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House.
Longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley, on the eve of the vote, called the move by the DNC “mind-boggling” and a “self-inflicted wound” that would hurt the chances of Democratic candidates in 2024 in the key northeastern general election battleground state.
The DNC’s nearly 500 voting members gathered for the party’s winter meeting in Philadelphia are expected to overwhelmingly approve a proposal by President Biden to move South Carolina to the lead position in the Democrats’ primary calendar. Under Biden’s plan, South Carolina would hold its primary on Feb. 3, 2024, with New Hampshire and Nevada holding primaries three days later, followed by Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan two weeks later.
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President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee Winter Meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
That’s a dramatic switch from the current calendar, which has seen the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary lead off the process for five decades. But both states have been knocked by many Democrats for years as unrepresentative of the party as a whole, for being largely White with few major urban areas. Nevada and South Carolina, which in recent cycles have voted third and fourth in the calendar, are much more diverse than either Iowa or New Hampshire.
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The president and supporters of the plan argue that it would empower minority voter whom Democrats have long relied on but have at times taken for granted.
“We feel good about the calendar we’re putting out there and I think it’s something the full DNC can and will get behind,” Mo Elleithee, a top DNC official on the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, told Fox News.
The Rules and Bylaws panel gave initial approval to the calendar change in an early December vote where New Hampshire and Iowa were the only two “no” votes.
The sign outside the New Hampshire state capitol building in Concord, N.H., that honors the state’s cherished century hold tradition of holding the first presidential primary in the race for the White House.
“I love New Hampshire. I have shed my fair share of political blood, sweat and tears up in the Granite State, and I don’t see why this has to be such a big issue,” Elleithee, a veteran of numerous presidential campaigns, said. “New Hampshire has historically been second in the nation, and we have given them their second in the nation status while elevating some other voices, which is what the people of New Hampshire say they want to do as well.”
Buckley, who along with the state’s all Democratic congressional delegation has been fighting the proposed calendar changes, told reporters “We’re not going to ask for a roll call or make a motion. We’re sampling going to stand up and explain in clear terms what the situation is. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
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Iowa, an increasingly red state that holds caucuses instead of a primary, has been knocked from the DNC’s early February window, before the rest of the states hold presidential nominating contests.
And the DNC is insisting that New Hampshire, in order to keep its early voting slot in the new calendar, needs to scrap a decades-old state law that protects its first-in-the-nation primary status and must expand legislation to expand access to early voting. But with Republicans in control of New Hampshire’s governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature, state Democrats argue that’s a non-starter.
That means an unsanctioned, rogue Democratic primary in New Hampshire would be held on the same day as Republicans, who are not changing their longstanding order of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The DNC likely would penalize New Hampshire and any candidates that take part in the Granite State’s Democratic presidential primary for violating the party’s new calendar.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, and state Republicans, have repeatedly slammed Biden and the DNC. Sununu has reiterated that “we’re going first no matter what.”
“Republicans have already begun to attack Democrats over this proposed calendar, and we expect them to use it as a wedge for New Hampshire’s fiercely independent electorate going into 2024,” Buckley warned.
He pointed to former President Donald Trump, who attacked the Democrats and Biden over the primary in a speech last weekend as he campaigned in New Hampshire. Those arguments could be persuasive with Granite State independents, who make up 40% of the electorate in the state.
Former President Donald Trump gives the headline address at the New Hampshire GOP annual meeting, in Salem, New Hampshire on Jan. 28, 2023. Trump is joined by outgoing NHGOP chair Steve Stepanek (right), who is joining Trump’s campaign as a senior adviser in New Hampshire
Spotlighting New Hampshire’s status as one of a dozen crucial general election battleground states, Buckley argued that the new calendar was a “self-inflicted wound by the DNC ” and charged that it’s “mind-boggling that the national party would take steps that so clearly detrimental to the fortunes of Democratic candidates’ ability to win in November of 2024 in such a battleground state.”
The president came in a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary in 2020, before rebounding to a second-place finish in Nevada. Biden then won South Carolina — where Black voters play an outsized role in Democratic Party primaries — in a landslide, boosting him towards his party’s nomination and eventually the White House. Biden’s push to move South Carolina to the top of the 2024 calendar is another signal he intends to run for re-election next year.
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But Granite State Democrats warn that New Hampshire will still go first, and that an unsanctioned primary where Biden doesn’t take part could invite trouble for the president.
“President Biden will not file for election in the New Hampshire primary, which will still go first,” Buckley emphasized. And he predicted that “this will set him up, we believe, for an embarrassing situation where the first primary in the country will be won by someone other than the president. This will only fuel chatter of about Democrats divisions.”
President Biden shakes hands of supporters along the rope line, after addressing the crowd at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 3, 2023
Buckley noted that the Democratic primary in New Hampshire has a history of tripping up front-runners and that “it certainly could happen” once again in 2024.
But the DNC’s moving forward, regardless of the warnings.
Members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee voted unanimously during a meeting last week to give Georgia and New Hampshire until early June to come into compliance with the new proposed calendar. But in the latest chapter in this combustible Democratic Party feud, members of the panel said they were shocked by the pushback by New Hampshire Democrats, which they called “disturbing” and “irresponsible.”
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On the eve of the full DNC vote on the calendar, Elleithee said it was “frustrating to me” to “watch the New Hampshire Democratic Party attacking the DNC” instead of trying to come into compliance.
“New Hampshire has a very longstanding and special role in this process. The DNC wants to keep them in that special role. We’re hopeful that they see that because going to war with the DNC isn’t going to help them keep it,” Elleithee added.
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.