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Biden proposes South Carolina as first primary state in drastic shake up of presidential nominating calendar

<i>Mario Tama/Getty Images</i><br/>President Joe Biden has asked Democratic National Committee leaders to drastically reshape the 2024 presidential nominating calendar and make South Carolina the first state to host a primary.
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Mario Tama/Getty Images
President Joe Biden has asked Democratic National Committee leaders to drastically reshape the 2024 presidential nominating calendar and make South Carolina the first state to host a primary.

By Abby Phillip and Kate Sullivan, CNN

President Joe Biden has asked Democratic National Committee leaders to drastically reshape the 2024 presidential nominating calendar and make South Carolina the first state to host a primary, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on the same day a week later, Georgia the following week and then Michigan, a source confirms to CNN.

Biden’s preferences were announced Thursday evening at a dinner for members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee by committee co-chairs Jim Roosevelt, Jr. and Minyon Moore. The committee is set to meet Friday and Saturday in Washington and is poised to propose a new presidential nominating calendar.

Biden’s expression of his preferences will play a significant role in the process. A DNC source said his elevation of South Carolina to the first-in-the-nation primary has sparked significant debate as members meet Thursday night. But with Biden’s support, this proposal is likely to ultimately gain the support of the committee, though this person emphasized that nothing is final until the votes are held.

If the DNC ultimately adopts this calendar, it would be an extraordinary shake up of the existing order and would strip Iowa of the first-in-the-nation status that it has held since 1972. Iowa has traditionally gone first, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. It would also add a fifth state to the slate before Super Tuesday (the first Tuesday in March) and elevate Georgia and Michigan as early nominating states for the first time.

South Carolina’s primary would be held on February 6, Nevada and New Hampshire would have their contests on February 13, Georgia’s primary would be on February 20 and Michigan’s would be on February 27, according to the source.

Biden had also sent a letter to DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee members on Thursday laying out what he believed should be guiding principles for the committee as it discusses the calendar.

“Just like my Administration, the Democratic Party has worked hard to reflect the diversity of America – but our nominating process does not,” the president’s letter reads. “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. I am committed to working with the DNC to get this done.”

The president wrote: “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. 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.

“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,” he continued. “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.”

Biden said in the letter the Democratic Party should abolish caucuses, arguing they are “inherently anti-participatory” and “restrictive.”

The Washington Post was first to report on the president’s preferred order for the nominating calendar and the letter he sent to committee members.

Prioritizing more diverse battlegrounds

The DNC earlier this year approved a plan to prioritize diverse battleground states that choose to hold primaries, not caucuses, as it considers which states should hold early contests. Beyond the tumult of the 2020 caucuses, Iowa is largely White, no longer considered a battleground state and is required by state law to hold caucuses.

“There’s very little support for Iowa because they don’t fit into the framework and because of the debacle of 2020. There’s a lot of emotional momentum — it’s not unanimous — but there’s a lot of emotional momentum to replace Iowa with a state that is more representative, more inclusive and instills more confidence and is a battleground state,” one DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee member told CNN.

Any new proposal by the committee would have to be approved at a full DNC meeting, which will take place early next year. If a new schedule is adopted, it would be the first changes made to the Democratic nominating calendar since 2006, when Nevada and South Carolina were added as early states. It would also break with the Republican calendar, as the Republican National Committee voted earlier this year to reaffirm the early state lineup of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell, who has spearheaded Michigan’s effort to become an early-voting state, told CNN earlier on Thursday she was “feeling good” about Michigan’s chances and that she believed the state was in a “strong position” heading into the committee meeting.

“The White House knows that we don’t win presidencies without the heartland,” Dingell said. “And we’ve got to have a primary system where candidates are campaigning in a heartland state that reflects the diversity of this country and that they’re testing them because that’s where we win or lose in general elections.”

Nevada vs. New Hampshire

Nevada has been making a play to move up further in the calendar and unseat New Hampshire as the first-in-the-nation primary. New Hampshire has held the first primary on the presidential nominating calendar since 1920 and that status is protected by state law.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, whose reelection in November was critical to allowing Democrats to maintain control of the Senate, argues her state’s diverse electorate makes it a “microcosm of the rest of the country.”

“If you’re a presidential candidate and you can win in Nevada, you have a message that resonates across the country,” Cortez Masto told MSNBC earlier this month.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ political arm, CHC BOLD PAC, on Wednesday announced it was backing Nevada’s application to host the first-in-the-nation primary.

“The state that goes first matters, and we know that Latino voters will only become even more decisive in future election cycles when it comes to winning the White House and majorities in the House and Senate,” Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Raul Ruiz of California, leaders of the CHC BOLD PAC, said in a statement.

New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen tweeted Thursday, “NH’s First-In-The-Nation primary gives every candidate an opportunity to connect directly with engaged, informed voters in a battleground state — and Granite Staters are experts at assessing candidates & campaigns. I’m proud to support NH’s #FITN primary.”

Jockeying for early-state status

Earlier this year, the DNC committee heard presentations from 16 states — including the four current early states — as well as Puerto Rico on their pitches on why they should become an early state or hold on to their spot. Amid pressure to boot Iowa from its top position, the Hawkeye State made its case to stay first in the calendar and proposed simplifying the caucus process.

Minnesota is also among the states jockeying to join the early-state ranks. The chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Ken Martin, sent a memo to DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee members on Wednesday arguing Minnesota is “more diverse and has a stronger party infrastructure than Iowa, but unlike Michigan, it is not large enough that it would overshadow the other early primary states or make it harder and more expensive for candidates to compete in during this critical window.”

Both Michigan’s and Minnesota’s cases were bolstered after Democrats in both states won trifecta control of the governor and state legislatures in the midterms. Primary dates are generally set by law, so state parties would need cooperation from their legislatures and governors to become early-voting states. The Michigan state Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans, this week already took the step of voting to move the presidential primary up a month earlier to February.

Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, along with other party leaders in the state, sent a letter this month to members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee pledging to passing legislation moving up the primary date if Minnesota was selected as an early state. The letter, obtained by CNN, argued Minnesota is a “highly representative approximation of the country, paired with a robust state and local party infrastructure, an engaged electorate, and a logistical and financial advantage for campaigns.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the year that Iowa became the first early state in the presidential nominating calendar.

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CNN’s Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.

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