Democrats Face Obstacles in Plan to Reorder Presidential Primary Calendar




  • In Politics
  • 2023-01-06 12:49:40Z
  • By The New York Times
A voter leaves a polling place in Woodstick, N.
A voter leaves a polling place in Woodstick, N.  

Democratic efforts to overhaul which states hold the first presidential primaries entered a new and uncertain phase this week, with hurdles to President Joe Biden's preferred order coming into focus even as several states signaled their abilities to host early contests, a key step in radically reshaping the calendar.

But in Georgia, Democrats face logistical problems in moving up their primary. And New Hampshire, the longtime leadoff primary state, has officially indicated that it cannot comply with the early-state lineup endorsed by a DNC panel, under which the state would hold the second primary contest alongside Nevada.

That panel backed a sweeping set of changes last month to how the party picks its presidential nominee, in keeping with Biden's vision of putting more racially diverse states at the beginning of the process.

Democratic nominating contests have for years begun with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Under the new proposal, the 2024 Democratic presidential primary calendar would begin in South Carolina on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and then Michigan on Feb. 27.

Those states - several of which played critical roles in Biden's 2020 primary victory - had until Thursday to demonstrate progress toward being able to host contests on the selected dates. According to a letter from the co-chairs of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, Nevada, South Carolina and Michigan have met the committee's requirements for holding early primaries.

Both Georgia and New Hampshire are more complex cases.

In the letter, sent Thursday, the committee's co-chairs recommended that the two states be granted extensions to allow for more time to work toward meeting the requirements of the new calendar.

"We expected both the New Hampshire and Georgia efforts to be complicated but well worth the effort if we can get them done," wrote Jim Roosevelt Jr. and Minyon Moore, in a letter obtained by The New York Times. They added, "We are committed to seeing out the calendar that this committee approved last month."

Under the new DNC proposal, Georgia would host the fourth Democratic primary in 2024. A onetime Republican bastion that helped propel Biden to the presidency, Georgia also played a critical role in cementing the Democratic Senate majority and has become an undeniably critical battleground state. Atlanta has been vying to host the Democratic National Convention and is considered one of the stronger contenders.

But there are challenges in moving up Georgia's Democratic primary. Republicans have already agreed to their own early-voting calendar, keeping the order of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and rules from the Republican National Committee are clear: States that jump the order will lose delegates, and party rules have already been set (though the RNC is in a period of tumult as its chair, Ronna McDaniel, faces a challenge to her leadership).

In Georgia, the primary date is determined by the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican. Officials from his office have stressed that there is no appetite to hold two primaries or to risk losing delegates.

"This needs to be equitable to both political parties and held on the same day to save taxpayers' money," Jordan Fuchs, Georgia's deputy secretary of state, said in a statement this week.

Georgia Democrats hoping that the money and media attention that come to an early primary state might persuade Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, to intercede for them may be disappointed, too.

"The governor has no role in this process and does not support the idea," Cody Hall, an adviser to Kemp, said Wednesday night.

The situation is fraught for different reasons in New Hampshire, which has long held the nation's first primary as a matter of state law. Neither the state's Democrats nor its Republicans, who control the governor's mansion and state legislature, are inclined to buck the law, playing up the state's discerning voters and famed opportunities for small-scale retail politicking.

That tradition puts New Hampshire's Democrats directly at odds with the DNC mandate to host the second primary in 2024. Officials in the state have signaled their intent to hold the first primary anyway, risking penalties.

In a letter to the Rules and Bylaws Committee before the deadline extension, Raymond Buckley, the chair of the state Democratic Party, wrote that the DNC's plan was "unrealistic and unattainable, as the New Hampshire Democratic Party cannot dictate to the Republican governor and state legislative leaders what to do, and because it does not have the power to change the primary date unilaterally."

He noted a number of concessions New Hampshire Democrats would seek to make, but urged the committee to "reconsider the requirements that they have placed," casting them as a "poison pill."

The early-state proposal is the culmination of a long process to reorder and diversify the calendar, and Roosevelt and Moore said later Thursday that the tentative calendar "does what is long overdue and brings more voices into the early window process."

DNC rules stipulate consequences for any state that moves to operate ahead of the party's agreed-upon early window, as well as for candidates who campaign in such states.

If New Hampshire jumps the line, Biden's reelection campaign, assuming he runs, could decide against filing in the New Hampshire primary, a state where he came in fifth place in 2020.

While few prominent Democratic officials expect, as of now, that he would draw a major primary challenge if he runs - making much of the drama around the early-state calendar effectively moot in 2024 - a lesser-known candidate could emerge and camp out in New Hampshire, some in the state have warned.

The eventual calendar is not set in stone for future elections: Biden urged the Rules and Bylaws Committee to review the calendar every four years, and the committee has embraced an amendment to get that process underway.

And there are still a number of steps this year.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to meet to vote on the proposed extensions. The DNC's. winter meeting, where the five-state proposal must be affirmed by the full committee, is scheduled for early February in Philadelphia, and there is certain to be more jockeying ahead of that event.

"The first real inflection point is the meeting of the full DNC," Roosevelt said in an interview late last month.

© 2023 The New York Times Company

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