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Biden wants South Carolina to have first primary in 2024

Democrats consider changing primary calendar
Democrats to discuss changing presidential primary calendar 04:20

President Biden wants South Carolina to have the first nominating contest in 2024, followed by Nevada, New Hampshire, then Michigan and Georgia — an unexpected proposal that upends nearly two years of debate among party leaders about how Democrats should choose nominees in the future.

The proposed change, unveiled in a letter Mr. Biden sent to members of a Democratic National Committee group tasked with setting the rules of the road for the party's schedule and nomination process, would allow "voters of color" to have a voice much earlier in the nominating process, the president wrote.

"I got into politics because of civil rights and the possibility to change our imperfect union into something better," he said. "I have made no secret of my conviction that diversity is a critical element for the Democratic Party to win elections AND to govern effectively."

"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," the president added.  

South Carolina, which has a large Black population, played a pivotal role in helping Mr. Biden clinch the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, after he had a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses, and New Hampshire and Nevada primaries. 

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) will be holding two days of meetings to make recommendations on the 2024 calendar beginning Friday in Washington.

The current order of nominating contests is Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. 

Since 1972, when Iowa and New Hampshire were first given the top slots, Iowa has chosen the eventual Democratic nominee eight times, and New Hampshire has picked the nominee nine times.

Trav Robertson, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told CBS News in a phone call Thursday night that Mr. Biden's push for South Carolina to go first is "going to be felt for a very long time."

"His impact on our country in the way we pick a president is going to last for generations," Robertson said.

Robertson noted Biden's strong ties to South Carolina politics, but said he didn't "know anything about promises" related to Biden moving the state up.

Robertson said he thought his state made a "very good case" during its presentation to the RBC earlier this year. Robertson noted that the Democratic voter base in the state is spread out among rural and urban counties, and that is why "South Carolina has consistently picked the winner in the nominating process for president."

On potential criticism that South Carolina is not competitive enough in the general election to be the first-in-the-nation state, Robertson pointed to split media markets that South Carolina shares with Georgia and North Carolina, two battleground states. He also noted that candidates who campaigned in South Carolina that won the nomination "used the infrastructure in our state to make sure they had volunteers going over to Georgia or North Carolina or down to Florida."

Robertson used Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock's race against Republican challenger Herschel Walker as an example. Their race has gone to a Dec. 6 runoff election.

"The number of people from South Carolina going over to help Warnock win reelection is off the charts, not just this time, but the last time too," Robertson said. "That wouldn't have worked without the investment in our primary process in South Carolina."

Mr. Biden became the first Democrat in decades to win Georgia when he defeated then-president Donald Trump in the reliably red state. Georgia had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. 

Mr. Biden's proposal, however, predictably received swift condemnation from Democratic leaders in states including New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada. 

"It's tremendously disappointing that the president failed to understand the unique role that New Hampshire plays in our candidate selection process as the first primary state," New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement. "As frustrating as this decision is, it holds no bearing over when we choose our primary date: New Hampshire's state law stipulates that we will hold the 'First-in-the-Nation' primary. That status remains unchanged as we are bound by State statute." 

Fellow New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan called the proposal "misguided." 

"We will always hold the First in the Nation Primary, and this status is independent of the president's proposal or any political organization," Hassan said in a statement. "I look forward to welcoming Democratic and Republican candidates to New Hampshire — just like we always have."

Iowa Democratic Party chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement that, "Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our Presidential nominating process. Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation."

In a joint statement, Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said the "proposed new order for the early states disregards the broad coalition of national organizations and leaders calling for Nevada to go first, and instead elevates a state that doesn't meet the criteria to start off this process.  

Officials in Michigan, meanwhile, celebrated the potential for their primary to move up. Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes and Rep. Debbie Dingell had lobbied for Michigan to become an early primary state. 

"We have always said that any road to the White House goes through the heartland and President Biden understands that," they said in a joint statement. 

The news was first reported by The Washington Post.   

Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report. This story has been updated to correct the attribution of the statement from Sen. Maggie Hassan.

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