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Democrats make South Carolina first presidential primary voting state

The DNC officially moved the state ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire for its 2024 primary, following President Biden's recommendation.
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PHILADELPHIA — The Democratic National Committee on Saturday officially dethroned Iowa and New Hampshire from the status they enjoyed for decades leading off the presidential primary, ratifying president Joe Biden’s recommendation for the 2024 calendar.

South Carolina will now kick off things for Democrats, with Michigan — and potentially Georgia — joining the early states in the biggest shakeup of the presidential primary in years, while Nevada will go second.

New Hampshire could go on the same day as Nevada if its Republican legislators and governor change a state law. Georgia, too, will need cooperation from Republican officials to take advantage of the new slot now available to them. 

People vote in the Presidential primary election in Charleston, S.C.
People vote in the presidential primary election in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

Republicans are sticking with the traditional roles for Iowa and New Hampshire for their presidential primary in 2024, but Democrats have for years been looking to promote more diverse states.

“This calendar does what is long overdue,” said DNC chair Jaime Harrison. "It puts Black voters at the front of the process in South Carolina. It keeps Nevada, where Latinos have been building power ... and it adds Michigan, the heartland, where unions built the middle class of this nation. And Georgia, the forefront of the new South. 

“The Democratic Party looks like America," Harrison contniued, "and so does this proposal.”

The new calendar puts South Carolina first on Feb. 3, 2024, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, then Georgia on Feb. 13, and Michigan on Feb. 27. After that, any state is free to schedule its primary when it wants.

The party finally exerted the political will to shake up the status quo after Iowa botched its 2020 caucuses, which delayed results for days, and shifted further into the Republican column. 

The calendar is still not final, since it is now up to the states to change their primary dates to comply. South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan have already codified their positions, while the others have not.

Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats objected to the new calendar, warning that opening up the calendar to change could create chaos by inviting other states to try to elbow in and hurt Democrats' electoral prospects in their states.

Iowa Democratic Party chair Rita Hart said the removal of Iowa will expose Democrats to charges that they have “turned their back on Iowa and rural America.”

The thornier issue, however, is New Hampshire, where a state law mandates that it holds the first primary a week before any other state in the country.

New Hampshire Democrats have asked for more time to try to come up with a solution, but most Democrats say the writing is on the wall and expect there will be no solution to the impasse. 

Instead, New Hampshire seems likely to go ahead with a unsanctioned first-in-the-nation Democratic primary, even though it means the party will lose delegates to the Democratic National Convention next year and that any candidates who so much as put their names on the ballot will face steep penalties from the DNC, such as being barred from debate stages or losing access to the voter file.  

“The DNC is set to punish us despite the fact that we don’t have the ability to unilaterally change state law,” said New Hampshire DNC member Joanne Dowdell. “This will only hurt President Biden in our purple battleground state.”

Democrats may wind up with someone like Marianne Williamson, the spiritual author who ran a long-shot presidential campaign in 2020, as the most prominent Democrat on the ballot in an unsanctioned New Hampshire primary.

"If President Biden doesn't file for New Hampshire, it could provide an opening for an insurgent candidate to run and win the first primary of 2024 — something no one in this room wants to see," Dowdell added.

But in a party united behind Biden, there was little sympathy for its plight.

"No one state should have a lock on going first," said Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, a DNC member from the newly promoted state.

Those who spoke in favor of the new calendar received far more applause than their colleagues from Iowa or New Hampshire.

“Y’all, for far too long, our party’s nominating calendar has not reflected this country looks like,” said Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state Democratic Party. “After today, we can proudly say that elevated the voices that have been silenced for far too long.”