WASHINGTON (AP) —President Joe Biden said Thursday that Democrats should abandon “restrictive” primaries and prioritize diversity at the start of their presidential primary calendar — dealing a major blow to Iowa’s decades-long status as the state leading the process.
In a letter to the regulatory arm of the Democratic National Committee, Biden did not name any specific states he would like to see first. But he has told Democrats he wants South Carolina moved to the first position, according to three people familiar with his recommendation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The president’s direction comes as the DNC rules committee meets in Washington on Friday to vote on shaking up the presidential primary calendar starting in 2024. Members now expect to pass new rules with South Carolina coming first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on the same day a week later.
Georgia and Michigan would move into the top five as new early states, and each would hold primaries in subsequent weeks, committee members say. The two battlegrounds were critical to Biden’s 2020 victory over then-President Donald Trump, who had won both states in his 2016 White House campaign.
Much of the rest of the country would vote soon after as part of Super Tuesday.
Such changes will come after years of calls from many top Democrats that the voting calendar better reflects the party’s highly diverse base than predominantly white Iowa, which is holding the nation’s first caucus, and New Hampshire, which is holding the first primary. The new calendar has yet to be approved by the full DNC in a vote likely to take place early next year, but the DNC will almost certainly heed the recommendations of the regulatory panel.
The proposed order of the early states was first reported by The Washington Post.
“Black voters, in particular, have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for decades, but have been pushed backward in the early primary process,” Biden wrote in a letter on personal stationery that did not bear the White House seal. “We rely on these voters in elections, but have not recognized their importance in our nomination calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted and give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”
He said caucuses were “restrictive and anti-employee” because they require voters to spend “considerable amounts of time” in one nighttime gathering to personally elect candidates, “disadvantaging hourly workers and anyone who doesn’t have the flexibility to to go to a set.” location at a fixed time.”
The changes could be made as early as 2024, but would become largely meaningless until 2028 if Biden chooses to seek a second term. The president has said for months that he intends to run again, and aides from the White House and Biden allies have begun personnel and structural talks for his likely 2024 bid, refraining from open steps as the president weighs a final decision.
Such an uproar would nevertheless be seismic, given that the Iowa caucus has led the Democratic election calendar since 1976. Yet it would come two years after a series of technical failures that marred the party results. that they stopped The Associated Press from declaring a winner of the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus.
On the current Democratic calendar, Iowa is followed by New Hampshire, which has held the country’s first primary since 1920. Nevada and South Carolina are next since the 2008 presidential election, when Democrats last made a major revision to the primary calendar.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has already decided to keep the Iowa caucus as the first game in the 2024 presidential calendar, to ensure that GOP White House hopefuls — including Trump — will continue to campaign there regularly.
South Carolina is of particular interest to Biden. His victory in the state’s first 2020 primaries, his presidential campaign began after poor results in Iowa and New Hampshire en route to winning the Democratic nomination.
Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Biden ally, fundraiser and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said Thursday that he and Biden discussed South Carolina’s possible progress on the night of Biden’s 2020 primary win there. Harpootlian said he had impressed Biden that the state was a better place than Iowa to hold an even earlier presidential voting contest — to which Harpootlian said Biden was amenable.
“I think he agreed that this was a much more dynamic process,” Harpootlian said. “Iowa was just a nightmare.”
The DNC rules committee has been discussing rescheduling the early calendar for months, sparking a fierce battle among many states to go first. In a joint statement Thursday night, Michigan Democratic Party chairman Lavora Barnes and U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell said, “We’ve always said that every road to the White House is through the interior, and President Biden understands that.”
But Biden’s wishes sparked anger in New Hampshire, where state law requires the nation’s first primary to be held and where officials have for months threatened to simply push their election forward no matter what new rules the DNC approves. Other states have previously tried to break party rules and jump closer to the front, only to be threatened with their delegates not counting against their chosen candidate clinching the party’s nomination.
New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen issued a statement denouncing “the shortsighted decision of the White House,” while fellow Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said: “I strongly oppose the very misguided proposal from the president.
“But make no mistake,” Hassan said in a statement. “New Hampshire’s law is clear and our primary will remain the first in the country.”
Kinnard reported from Columbia, SC Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.