WASHINGTON — Democrats advanced a plan Friday to reorder the early voting states in their presidential primary calendar, one that would put South Carolina first, jettison Iowa and demote New Hampshire.
At a meeting in Washington, a key panel at the Democratic National Committee approved the proposal, which was put forward by President Joe Biden a day earlier. The only dissent came from representatives of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The overhaul calls for South Carolina to hold its Democratic primary on Feb. 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6. Georgia would hold its primary on Feb. 13, with Michigan rounding out the early voting on Feb. 27.
The new calendar still faces hurdles before it is adopted. Numerous states were caught off guard by the White House proposal, which makes more dramatic revisions than had been expected.
"This proposal reflects the best of our party as a whole and it will continue to make our party stronger," Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison told members of the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which voted to approve the plan Friday.
Democrats have spent months debating their primary calendar, aiming to increase the diversity of states that help select the party’s standard-bearer and to add more general election battlegrounds to the mix, though it may become moot in 2024 if Biden runs for re-election without any serious Democratic challengers.
The new calendar — which still needs approval by the full DNC at a meeting early next year — cast aside decades of tradition and upset Democratic officials from states that have long enjoyed first-in-the-nation status.
But with Republicans sticking with Iowa and New Hampshire as their first two nominating states, officials from both parties in those states are threatening to hold the Democratic contests on the same day as the GOP ones, regardless of what action the DNC takes.
“New Hampshire has a law that requires we hold our Presidential Primary at least seven days before any similar nominating event," New Hampshire secretary of state David Scanlan said in a statement to NBC News. "Our first-in-the-nation primary is part of our culture and has been in place for over 100 years. We will continue to follow the law and honor our tradition."
In Iowa, where Republicans control both the governorship and the Legislature, party officials say they have no plans to accede to the wishes of Washington Democrats.
"The DNC and Joe Biden have just kicked off utter chaos. This is just a recommendation, and the fight is not over," Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement.
Enacting the DNC plan will also require cooperation from Georgia, which is run by Republicans, though Democrats are hoping the prospect of a higher-profile role will entice them to sign on.
The DNC on Friday clarified penalties for states that do not comply with the new dates: States that schedule their primaries in defiance of the DNC would automatically lose half their delegates to the party's national convention.
In a new provision added to DNC bylaws this year, candidates can be punished for campaigning in states that jump the line. Candidates who put their name on the ballot in one of those states would also be penalized, to the point of losing all their delegates from that state.
Further, the new rules would allow the DNC chair to take "any other appropriate steps," which could include barring them from DNC-sanctioned debates.