Democrats Radically Overhaul Presidential Primaries

The idiocy of Iowa and New Hampshire having outsized influence on who is elected President may be ending.

WSJ (“Democrats Advance Plan to Make South Carolina First Primary State“):

Democrats moved Friday toward the most significant changes in their presidential nominating process in nearly two decades after a key committee backed a plan put forward by President Biden to allow South Carolina to host the first 2024 primary, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on the same day, Georgia and then Michigan.

The change would decrease the influence of Iowa, which has held the first nominating contest for five decades, while elevating the role of several states that are typically battlegrounds in general elections. The change would reduce the importance of New Hampshire, the traditional host of the nation’s first presidential primary.

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee approved a 2024 plan for South Carolina to kick off the process Feb. 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27. Those dates would come ahead of Super Tuesday in March, when several states typically hold primaries, followed by contests throughout the spring.

The only no votes were cast by members from Iowa and New Hampshire out of roughly 30 members. The proposal, which could face legislative hurdles in Republican-controlled states such as Georgia, is expected to be approved by the full DNC during the its winter meeting in Philadelphia in early February.

The promotion of South Carolina is a reward for a state that helped revitalize Mr. Biden‘s 2020 campaign during the primaries. The state is the home of the DNC’s chairman, Jaime Harrison.

Party leaders from Iowa, where Mr. Biden hasn’t performed well during his political career, and New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary is enshrined in state law, suggested that they would move forward with their contests regardless of the DNC’s decision. That could trigger penalties from the national party.

“New Hampshire does have a statute, we do have a law, and we will not be breaking our law,” said Joanne Dowdell, a Rules and Bylaws Committee member from New Hampshire. Ms. Dowdell is senior vice president for global government affairs at News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Biden has said he intends to seek re-election and pointed to plans to make a formal announcement sometime next year. If he doesn’t face any significant opposition, some of the changes to the calendar might not be felt until 2028. But the moves have shaken up the calendar process and could set in place future fights over the order of states after Iowa and New Hampshire held the top spots for about a half-century.

AP (“Dems move to make South Carolina, not Iowa, 1st voting state“) adds:

The change also comes after a long push by some of the party’s top leaders to start choosing a president in states that are less white, especially given the importance of Black voters as Democrats’ most loyal electoral base.

Discussion on prioritizing diversity drew such impassioned reaction at the committee gathering in Washington that DNC chair Jaime Harrison wiped away tears as committee member Donna Brazile suggested that Democrats had spent years failing to fight for Black voters: “Do you know what it’s like to live on a dirt road? Do you know what it’s like to try to find running water that is clean?”

“Do you know what it’s like to wait and see if the storm is going to pass you by and your roof is still intact?” Brazile asked. “That’s what this is about.”


Biden wrote in a letter to rules committee members on Thursday that the party should scrap “restrictive” caucuses altogether because their rules on in-person participation can sometimes exclude working-class and other voters. He told also told party leaders privately that he’d like to see South Carolina go first to better ensure that voters of color aren’t marginalized as Democrats choose a presidential nominee.

Four of the five states now poised to start the party’s primary are presidential battlegrounds, meaning the eventual Democratic winner would be able to lay groundwork in important general election locales. That’s especially true for Michigan and Georgia, which both voted for Donald Trump in 2016 before flipping to Biden in 2020. The exception is South Carolina, which hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential race since 1976.

The first five voting states would be positioned to cast ballots before Super Tuesday, the day when much of the rest of the country holds primaries. That gives the early states outsize influence since White House hopefuls struggling to raise money or gain political traction often drop out before visiting much of the rest of the country.

Scott Brennan, a rules committee member from Iowa, said “small, rural states” like his “must have a voice in the presidential nominating process.”

“Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party in newer generations,” Brennan said.

The Republican National Committee has already decided to keep Iowa’s caucus as the first contest in its 2024 presidential primary, ensuring that GOP White House hopefuls — which include Trump — have continued to frequently campaign there.

The optics of moving up the state that turned the tide for the sitting President and punishing a state where he has historically underperformed aren’t great but, in reality, the 2024 nomination is Biden’s regardless unless he decides not to or is unable to run. And serious election analysts, regardless of party affiliation, of argued for years that Iowa and New Hampshire are incredibly unrepresentative states.

This is, therefore, a bold move. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work, though, with Republicans not going along. It would be incredibly expensive—not to mention confusing—for each state to hold two primary contests.

It’s not clear from the reports I’ve read whether Biden’s plea for ending “restrictive” caucuses passed. It’s certainly a good idea. How it would be enforced is another question. States have flouted these rules many times over the years and the parties are incredibly reluctant to punish them.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    A benefit of dumping Iowa is that Dems will no longer need to commit to pouring money down the rat hole of ethanol subsidies.

    The rest is inside baseball that will only be of concern to party officials.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog: It should radically impact how campaigns are orchestrated. Instead of spending 18 months eating pancakes in Iowa and sitting in living rooms in New Hampshire talking to seven people at a time, they’ll be hitting South Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan—states that are much more diverse and important in the general election.

  3. charon says:

    This is sign the Democrats foresee non-competitive Presidential primaries in 2024 (OK to p.o. Iowa/NH) – i.e., Biden plans to run in 2024.

  4. Michael Cain says:

    I still say the whole thing has a chance of blowing up in the DNC’s face. If the Republicans don’t go along, and state legislatures say that they get to choose when the states’ election infrastructure is used, and even possibly a state party in one or more states says, “We supply a critical number of EC votes, we’re the only ones who can put a name on the general election ballot in our state labeled as ‘Democrat’, and if you don’t seat our delegates at the national convention we may put someone else’s name on the ballot.” Bernie Sanders did, after all, win the Dem primary popular vote in California in 2020.

    ETA: the “general election” adjective.
    ETA: imagine that, an edit button when I needed it!

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Cain:

    In particular why would R’s want to move away from IA & NH, both of whom have populations that look like their base (white).

    Here’s what state pay for in elections:

    @James Joyner:

    You don’t really believe that in future competitive primaries that in the early states will be anything but the type of retail politics that we’ve become familiar with? The early states are all about mostly unknown candidates trying to get noticed, trying to get an interview in a regional newspaper. That doesn’t happen through TV ads and mailings.

    In truth, primary campaigns on the ground resemble US Senate elections and those candidates are at pot luck suppers, trolling restraints and camped outside large employers at quitting time.

    Regardless of what state goes first, the campaigning will begin in the late spring/23.

  6. Argon says:

    Well, there goes the Iowa hospitality economy…

  7. I think we are about to have underscore how much that primaries are as much functions of state electoral structures as they are party functions.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    Leading with the states that will take their place was a smart move. The times this has been discussed in the past that has not been decided. And candidates didn’t want to offend Iowa and NH so they showed up. But now if they go there they will offend three much more crucial states in the general.

  9. CSK says:


    My experience with Iowans is that they’re rather full of themselves–Iowa is the earthly Paradise!–so they won’t like this.

    Given my limited exposure to Iowans, though, I shouldn’t be making such generalizations. My apologies.

  10. Sleeping Dog says:


    Having spent 25 years in the upper midwest, yes Iowa displays, along with Minnesota, a smug, small town boosterism that contains a venal streak of babbittry. Sinclair Lewis knew well of what he wrote.

    So no, Iowegia will not take this well. In one of the articles covering the proposal this AM, some Iowan was moaning about what will Iowa Dems be without the caucus.

    In NH, I expect that the reaction among the voters will be flinty indifference, but I also fear that the voters will remember the slight come election time and punish Dems then.

  11. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The NH state liquor stores might suffer a small drop in revenue.

  12. al Ameda says:

    Honestly, I don’t mind Hew Hampshire being first, the tradition has been established for a long time. Plus, kicking off the primary season in a small state where you have to go door-to-door and hall-to-hall, shake hands and all that is a good thing.

    But Iowa? Don’t get me started. Different matter. They don’t even have a legitimate vote, just a funky broken caucus system. Throw Iowa under the bus along with Chuck Grassley.

  13. charon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    If Biden runs in 2024, the Dem primaries will be non-competitive, so it won’t matter much that NH/IA voters are miffed at Dems – presumably they get over it by 2028 and move on.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think we are about to have underscore how much that primaries are as much functions of state electoral structures as they are party functions.

    The parties like having the states pick up the costs, provide the election workers, etc. It’s hard for parties to independently conduct elections – caucuses they can do, but caucuses are going out of style.

  14. Sleeping Dog says:


    I’m concerned about Nov/2024. Clinton beat trump in 2016 by a margin of .04 or 2736 votes, Biden did well in 2020 at a margin of 5.16%. Though only 4 -EV’s, NH is very much a swing state and could be the deciding state. I’d hate to see Dems lose here because they pissed off some Dem leaning independents and gettable independents.

  15. MarkedMan says:


    caucuses are going out of style

    Worth repeating that Iowans have Bernie to thank for that. After loosing the primary by every metric to Clinton who understood every facet of how to work the caucus states, he seethed with resentment, convinced that Clinton had cheated him out of an Iowa victory and therefore the nod. After the election he expended all his political capital “reforming” the caucus system. The Party establishment, who despised the caucuses, saw an opportunity and let him reform away, making sure that every one of Bernie’s constituent interest groups got what they wanted. A caucus was meant to be an inexpensive and quick way for the most committed party members in a state to chose their nominee. It got loaded up with written records which could be recounted, vote by mail, on line voting, special accommodations for the handicapped, and on and on, until it was cheaper and easier to have a primary. All but two of the caucus states dropped it last time, and the two that kept it, including Iowa, were disasters.

  16. charon says:


    My recollection of 2008 is that Obama won by doing much better than Clinton in the caucus states.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @charon: Oh, absolutely. And no matter what you think of Clinton, you can’t accuse her of not doing her homework and learning her lessons. What Obama did to her, she did to Bernie.

  18. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    South Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan—states that are much more diverse and important in the general election.

    How is South Carolina important in the general election? Georgia and Michigan, for sure, but not SC. It’s pretty solidly red. I’m not saying the first primary state needs to be a swing state, just that SC, for better or worse, isn’t.

  19. @Kylopod: Fair. But SC has 7 Representatives, which is more than Iowa and New Hampshire combined.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: @James Joyner: I thought the WSJ article did a credible job of explaining “why SC:”

    The promotion of South Carolina is a reward for a state that helped revitalize Mr. Biden‘s 2020 campaign during the primaries. The state is the home of the DNC’s chairman, Jaime Harrison.

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: That’s part of it. But it’s just he first of the traditional early states with a large Black population. It makes sense for Democrats, especially, to give their most reliable large constituency an early cut of the field.