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DNC sets criteria to decide who will hold first presidential nominating contests in 2024

The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday began the process for determining which states will hold the party's first presidential nominating contests in 2024 — which could knock Iowa out of its traditional first-in-the-nation slot. 

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) approved a resolution outlining the criteria that the powerful committee will consider from states vying for the earliest primary window. 

The resolution says no more than five states may hold their primaries or caucuses before the first Tuesday in March. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have been the four states in that window since 2008.

The committee will consider three main criteria for selecting the early states in 2024: diversity, competitiveness and feasibility. Diversity, according to the resolution, includes weighing racial, ethnic, geographic and economic diversity, as well as union representation. 

National Democrats will also consider how competitive states are in the general election. Among the feasibility requirements that the committee will examine are whether states can move their contest into the early window, if they can run a "fair, transparent and inclusive nominating process" and the logistical requirements and cost of campaigning in that state. 

"This is not a checklist; these are factors to be considered," said RBC co-chair Jim Roosevelt. "Each state doesn't have to pass muster on each item."

The criteria are similar to what some RBC members proposed in March, when there was discussion about removing Iowa from its spot. Some Democrats say Iowa, a state that is 90% White, should not be the first nominating contest, and they note that former President Donald Trump's margin of victory in the state shows it isn't currently competitive in general elections. 

"As Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, I look forward to making the case for Iowa alongside my fellow early state leaders in New Hampshire, South Carolina & Nevada," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement after a previous RBC meeting. 

Democrats aiming to increase diversity in the early primary process have also raised questions about New Hampshire, which is 93% white, but that state has drawn less pointed criticism than Iowa, partly because it conducts a primary rather than a caucus and has been more competitive in recent presidential elections. 

"New Hampshire is one of the last places where retail politics reigns," New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said in a statement. "Successful candidates come out of New Hampshire stronger for having been here and ready for the fight ahead."

Last year, Nevada passed a law that said it would hold the first primary. That puts it in conflict with New Hampshire, which also has a law claiming the first primary, demonstrating the complex web that the DNC must navigate during this process. 

Nevada Democrats are pushing hard for the first spot. State Democratic Chair Judith Whitmer said that she has been getting updates from a team led by Governor Steve Sisolak and Senator Jacky Rosen, who are pressing the case. 

"Nevada is definitely a state that would meet all of the criteria, particularly in the area of diversity and inclusiveness," Whitmer said. 

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, a South Carolina native, told CBS News in March that "South Carolina likes being where it is." The state, which launched President Biden to the Democratic nomination in 2020, currently holds the fourth nominating contest. 

RBC committee members added language to the resolution to ensure that there is at least one state in the early window from four different regions. 

"I don't know what's going to happen here with Iowa or any other Midwestern state, but I think it's important that the Midwest is not flyover country," said RBC member Ken Martin of Minnesota, who proposed adding that language. 

Some members suggested offering clear definitions of what the committee will be reviewing, but other members suggested that the resolution offers flexibility for states to make their case if they don't meet all criteria. RBC member Elaine Kamarck suggested that states that hold a traditional caucus, which Iowa does, shouldn't be part of the early window, but other members skeptical of caucuses said those states should be able to argue for a spot. 

"It is going to take a really strong effort and a really strong case for a caucus state to convince me, but I want them to make the case and they might prove me wrong," said RBC member Mo Elleithee, who has been critical of Iowa in previous meetings

Scott Brennan, an RBC member from Iowa, said the committee shouldn't eliminate states before applications are in. He was the only member to vote against the resolution. 

After the meeting, Brennan said that he was offended by suggestions from some members that Iowa shouldn't bother applying for the early window.

"It was incredibly offensive," he said. "And you saw it had no support from the committee (as a whole). So I didn't appreciate that. I thought that was just patently offensive."

With the resolution approved, there will be a sprint for states interested in applying to get into the early window. More than a dozen states applied to get into the early window ahead of the 2008 primary, when Democrats last changed their early calendar. 

State parties will soon be notified to submit letters of intent if they would like to enter the early window. After states send those letters, applications will be due June 3, and they'll make their presentations to the RBC later that month. A decision on which states will enter the early window is expected to come at meetings scheduled for July 8 and 9. 

During the review process, there will be four virtual listening sessions to discuss the potential calendar changes. 

New Jersey Democrats have expressed interest in moving up, arguing the state has a diverse population, is small enough to navigate during a campaign and has changed its voting laws to expand access at the polls. 

"After 50 years of doing the same dance, it's now time to reshuffle the deck," New Jersey Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones Jr. told CBS News in an interview. 

Mr. Biden won New Jersey by 16 points in 2020, but Democratic Governor Phil Murphy defeated his opponent by just three points in 2021. Jones said that election was a "wake-up call" and expects the Garden State to be more competitive in 2024. He also brushed off concerns that its advertising market is  too expensive for lesser known candidates to gain traction, saying that campaigns have to run sophisticated digital operations, not just broadcast advertisements. 

He also brushed off concerns that its advertising market is  too expensive for lesser known candidates to gain traction, saying that campaigns have to run sophisticated digital operations, not just broadcast advertisements.  

"If you're not in a position to run for president in terms of being well-financed and knowing what it takes to do that in terms of media markets, campaign structures, staffing and digital programs that you'd have to initiate, then you shouldn't be in the game," Jones said. 

Jones said there is support from the governor and legislature to move New Jersey's primary if the DNC is on board. Other states that are interested in entering the early window, including Michigan, may have a tough time getting Republicans in the legislature to sign off on such a plan. 

Some RBC members said that as the committee weighs applications, they need to consider the ability for candidates to engage in retail politics rather than conducting their campaigns in the media.

"These early states have often given an opportunity to candidates who are not nationally known to get nationally known and I think we want to think about keeping that here," Kamarck said.  "We don't want to tilt the field to only people who already have a national name and already have millions and millions of dollars in the bank."

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