The proposal is likely to win approval from Democratic officials, given the support of the party leader. Breaking with decades of tradition, Biden’s move aims to signal his party’s commitment to increasing diversity — demographic, geographic and economic — in the early nomination process. Iowa, a predominantly white state that historically held the nation’s first Democratic caucus and suffered embarrassing problems tabulating results in 2020, will not have an early role in Biden’s plan.
Biden also wrote in a letter to members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee delivered Thursday night. The members also planned to meet for dinner. “As I said in February 2020, you can’t be the Democratic nominee and win the general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color — and that includes Black, Brown, Asian American, and Pacific Islander voters.”
The new calendar will run through states that were pivotal to Biden winning the nomination battle and the 2020 general election, indicating he is serious about following through on his public statements about his intent to seek re-election. In Thursday’s speech, Biden told fellow Democrats he did not want the party to be associated with the same calendar in 2028.
“The Rules and Bylaws Committee must review the calendar every four years, to ensure that it continues to reflect the values and diversity of our party and our country,” he wrote.
The plan is expected to face resistance from some of the affected countries. New Hampshire Democrats said Thursday night that they will not abide by Biden’s wishes. New Hampshire’s governor, Republican Chris Sununu, said he would follow state law and hold his state’s primary a week before any other election.
“The New Hampshire DNC did not award the nation’s first primary and it is not theirs,” Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Obviously this news is disappointing, but we are going to have our first primary. We have survived previous attempts over decades and we will survive this.”
Sen. Jane Shaheen (D-N.H.) called Biden’s recommendation “extremely disappointing.” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said in a statement that the order is “deeply misleading.”
Iowa Democrats have also indicated their opposition to the plan. “This is just a recommendation,” said Scott Brennan, Iowa’s representative on the Committee on Rules and Regulations. “We will defend Iowa’s standing in this process.”
Democrats will need the support of Georgia Republicans to move that state’s primary earlier in the calendar. In Nevada, the Republican governor will be sworn in next month, which could complicate efforts to change the date in that state. The GOP has already committed to the traditional 2024 system, letting four states go before all others: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
In rules passed this summer, Democrats gave their president the power to strip delegates, debate access, and access data from candidates campaigning in non-sanctioned states. The president also has the power to remove state delegations from the nominating convention if they defy party rules.
This is a preliminary decision. Essentially, he felt this was an opportunity,” said one of Biden’s advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the president’s decision to prioritize states with more diverse voters. He’s done it with the Supreme Court. He’s done it with his cabinet. And his management. He felt it was very important.”
The Michigan delegation greeted the news as a success.
“This president knows any path to the White House must pass through the heart of America,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mitchell), who helped lead her state’s bid. “For me, that was a 30-year search,” she said, referring to her work with the late Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) to get the state into the early calendar.
South Carolina Democrats also welcomed the news.
“It looks like President Biden isn’t just changing our country,” Trav Robertson, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, wrote in a text message. It changes the way presidents are nominated. It will have a lasting impact on America.”
Democratic officials said the plan must be approved by the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which meets Friday and Saturday at a Washington hotel, and then approved by the full Democratic National Committee in February.
In recent weeks, Biden has personally spoken with officials from Nevada, New Hampshire and Michigan about his plans. Democratic officials said he spoke Wednesday with the committee’s co-chairs, James Roosevelt Jr. and Minion Moore, about his thinking.
Senior Democrats started Public meeting in March to discuss renewing the nomination calendar, after senior officials close to Biden made clear their displeasure with the caucuses in Iowa, a state that has shunned the Biden campaign and struggled to tally results in 2020. Democrats said they were concerned about the amount of money and Democratic efforts. Spending was in a state that has become less competitive in general elections and does not reflect party-state diversity. The caucuses, which are held in the evenings during the week, guarantee more limited participation than the primaries.
In recent cycles, Iowa has been the top ranked Democrat, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Iowa is obligated to hold the nation’s first caucus under current state law. In his letter to the committee, Biden said he does not believe caucuses should be allowed in the Democratic nominating effort.
The Iowa Democrats have not said whether they would proceed to the nation’s first caucus with the Republicans if their party threw them out of the nomination decision. They may also hold a nomination pool, which they currently plan to conduct by mail, after the rest of the country joins the nomination process.
Earlier this year, party officials adopted guidelines for a calendar renewal that would prioritize states that commit to holding primaries, prove competitive in the general election and are demographically diverse. They also set a goal to include at least one state of New England, the South, the Midwest, and the western regions of the country. But they also acknowledged that Biden’s view would figure prominently in their final decision. Sixteen states and Puerto Rico eventually made presentations to Democratic officials about why they should go so early in the process.
Michigan Democrats say they will be able to move the primary date, given their complete control of the state government. Nevada Democrats are also optimistic that they will be able to control their primary date, despite the election of a new Republican governor who will take office next year. The decision was a disappointment to Minnesota Democrats who had campaigned vigorously to be chosen over Michigan as the Midwest alternative to Iowa.
“I got into politics because of civil rights and the potential to change our imperfect union into something better,” Biden wrote to the committee on Thursday. “For fifty years, the first month of the presidential nomination process has been a cherished part of our democratic process, but the time has come to modernize the process for the twenty-first century.”
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