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 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.
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.
The committee 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.
Mr. Biden’s proposal received swift condemnation from New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.
“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,” 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.”
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.”
The proposal also received criticism from Iowa Democratic Party chair Ross Wilburn, who 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.