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Biden pushes for more diversity in shakeup of Democratic nomination process

President Joe Biden speaks before signing H.J.Res.100, a bill that aims to avert a freight rail strike, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Joe Biden speaks before signing H.J.Res.100, a bill that aims to avert a freight rail strike, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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Democrats are looking into making sweeping changes to their presidential nominating calendar with the support of President Joe Biden, who is pushing his party to prioritize states with diverse voter pools in the early voting window.

The president’s recommendations to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules & Bylaws Committee, which is tasked with reordering the calendar, called for South Carolina to be the first 2024 primary, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada, Georgia and then Michigan.

Black voters in South Carolina have been credited with saving Biden’s campaign during 2020 by giving him his first primary win after poor showings in New Hampshire and Iowa.

“For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” Biden wrote in a letter to the committee. “We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”

There has been a growing effort over the past few presidential cycles to make changes to the party’s nominating calendar and knock off the small, predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

“That concern on the Democratic side clearly has been building for some time, and then I think what tipped it over the edge was probably the technological problems that Iowa had in 2020,” said Chris Devine, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “It was one thing that just made a lot of people feel like that's the straw that broke the camel's back.”

Biden also called to end caucuses, which would further enhance the chances of Iowa losing its early-state status that it has held for 50 years.

“We are a party dedicated to ensuring participation by all voters and for removing barriers to political participation,” Biden said. “Caucuses — requiring voters to choose in public, to spend significant amounts of time to caucus, disadvantaging hourly workers and anyone who does not have the flexibility to go to a set location at a set time — are inherently anti-participatory.”

Iowa’s 2020 Democratic caucuses were marred with technological problems that delayed results for days and ultimately led to the resignation of state party chair Troy Price. After 2020’s meltdown, the Iowa Democratic Party proposed overhauling its caucus process to having voters cast “presidential preference cards” through mail or at drop-off locations in the days and weeks ahead of the caucuses and results would be announced on caucus night.

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Ross Wilburn warned the party that they were risking losing voters from the rural state. Democrats have been struggling to maintain support among rural voters in recent elections as voting demographics shifted.

“Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation,” Wilburn said in a statement. “It’s disappointing to see a characterization of caucuses that does not reflect the historic reforms that we proposed.”

Lawmakers from New Hampshire were even more defiant, promising to maintain its status as first in the nation, which is also a part of the state’s constitution.

“I strongly oppose the President's deeply misguided proposal for changes to the primary calendar. Make no mistake, New Hampshire's law is clear and our primary will continue to be First in the Nation,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said.

For states with smaller populations, going early in presidential primaries offers some clout that is unavailable to them in congressional delegations as the lower populations limits the number of lawmakers they can send to the House.

Being early on the calendar can bring candidates to the state years ahead of election cycles as they try to drum up support for a presidential bid.

“There's some power, some influence that comes with going early in the process, because you have the potential to weed out certain candidates if they do poorly there,” Devine said. “But also, any aspiring presidential candidate for one year, probably two years, maybe even more than that in advance will be doing things to build a good relationship with people in New Hampshire, with political officials there who could endorse them with voters there who could vote for them.”

Biden has not officially launched a reelection campaign yet but has indicated several times in public comments that he intends to do so with a caveat of his health allowing it. At 80, Biden is already the oldest president in U.S. history and would be 86 by the end of a second term.

Sitting presidents are not typically challenged in primaries and several of the potential contenders in a hypothetical race have already said they would back Biden for a second term.

But his influence over the party’s nominating process could help him should challenges pop up.

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“Maybe this just seems like a relatively quiet period in which to make a big change, rather than doing it when it has clear political implications for a contested primary,” Devine said. “It's also possible that Biden is just hedging against the possibility of a primary challenger, that they would know that the first date they're going to run in is one where Biden just cleaned the clocks of his opponents in 2020.”

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