116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
President Joe Biden has asked leaders of the Democratic National Committee to make South Carolina the nation's first presidential primary state, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada a week later, and subsequent weekly primaries in Georgia and Michigan, according to Democrats briefed on the plans.
That plan bumps the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses off the list of early states to winnow Democratic presidential candidates, ending a 50-year tradition. Biden took what he described as a “gut punch” in the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 2020, coming in fourth.
The tectonic decision to radically remake his party's presidential nominating calendar for 2024 came as a shock to party officials and state leaders who had been lobbying hard in recent weeks to gain a place in the early calendar, which historically attracts millions of dollars in candidate spending and attention.
The proposal is likely to win approval from the Democratic officials, given the support from the leader of the party. By breaking with decades of tradition, Biden's move is meant to signal his party's commitment to elevating more variety — demographic, geographic and economic — in the early nominating process.
Iowa, which experienced embarrassing problems tabulating the Democratic results in 2020, is largely a white state that would have no early role in the Biden plan.
"We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window," Biden wrote in a letter to members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee that was set to be delivered Thursday evening, as members planned to meet for dinner. "As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color — and that includes Black, Brown and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters."
The new calendar runs through states that were pivotal to Biden's victory in the 2020 nominating fight and general election, suggesting he is serious about following through on his public statements about intending to seek re-election. In the Thursday letter, Biden told fellow Democrats that he did not want to bind the party to the same calendar in 2028.
"The Rules and Bylaws Committee should 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 Republicans — including possibly governors, legislative leaders or secretaries of state — in New Hampshire, Georgia and Nevada, since Democrats will not have the ability to unilaterally move the state-sanctioned primary dates next year.
The Republican Party has already committed to the traditional order for 2024, allowing four states to go before all the others: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has previously said that his state will hold its primary contest before any other primary in the country, as required by state law. In rules passed this summer, Democrats gave their chair the power to strip delegates, debate access and data access from candidates who campaign in unsanctioned states. The chair also has the power to unseat state delegations from the nominating convention if they defy party rules.
"This is a principled decision. Fundamentally, he felt that this was an opportunity," said one Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to more openly describe the president's decision to prioritize states with more diverse electorates. "He has done it with the Supreme Court. He has done it with his Cabinet and his administration. He just felt it was very important."
The plan must be ratified by the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which is meeting Friday and Saturday at a Washington hotel, and then approved by the full Democratic National Committee in February, Democratic officials said.
In recent weeks, Biden has personally spoken with officials from Nevada, New Hampshire and Michigan about his plans.
Senior Democrats began meeting in public in March to discuss revamping the nominating calendar, after top officials close to Biden made clear their displeasure with the Iowa caucuses. Democrats have said they were concerned about the amount of money and effort Democrats were spending in a state that has become less competitive in general elections and does not reflect the diversity of the party and the country. The Iowa caucuses, held in the evening during the week in winter, also ensure more limited participation than a primary.
In recent cycles, Iowa has gone first for Democrats, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Iowa is bound to hold the nation's first nominating caucus under current state law. In his letter to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, Biden said he did not believe caucuses should be allowed in Democratic nominating efforts.
Iowa Democrats have not said whether they will move forward with the first-in-the-nation caucus with Republicans, if they are kicked out of the nominating order by their party. They could also hold a nominating caucus, which they currently plan to conduct by mail, after the rest of the country joins the nominating process.
Earlier this year, party officials adopted guidelines for revamping the calendar that would prioritize states that commit to hold primaries — as opposed to party caucuses — demonstrate general election competitiveness and are demographically diverse.
They also set a goal to include at least one state from New England, the South, the Midwest and 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 ultimately made presentations to Democratic officials about why they should go early in the process.
Democrats in Michigan say they will be able to move the primary date, given their complete control of state government. Nevada Democrats are also optimistic they will be able to control their primary date, despite the election of new Republican governor who will take office next year. The decision marked a let down for Democrats in Minnesota who had campaigned aggressively to be chosen over Michigan as the Midwestern replacement for Iowa.
"I got into politics because of civil rights and the possibility to change our imperfect union into something better," Biden wrote to the committee Thursday. "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."