Biden proposed this overhaul of the DNC’s nominating process, which will now see South Carolina Democrats—including many Black voters credited with breathing new life into then-candidate Biden’s ailing 2020 campaign— take the lead in picking the party’s standard bearer every four years. Three days later, both New Hampshire and Nevada Democrats take their turns. The following week now goes to Georgia voters who have proven all-important in general elections, even as their presidential preferences haven’t mattered as much. Then Michigan voters will cast their ballots the following week.
The reshuffling of the DNC’s primary map is already causing identity crises in these storied early-voting states, while it also promises an interparty battle yet to come because New Hampshire state law requires its residents vote first in presidential primaries.
Still, the changes have been a long time coming.
“It's been a 30-year odyssey,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) told Raw Story at the Capitol. “I think that what the president did shows that he knows that any road to the White House goes through the heartland of America. We’ve fought for years that no one state should have a lock on going first.”
Dingell and other Michiganders, including the tenacious late Sen. Carl Levin, have been tirelessly calling to upend the traditional primary map since the nineties. In 2016, these midwestern critics—along with their coastal allies who have never felt represented by Iowa or New Hampshire voters—started to be taken more seriously after Hillary Clinton lost Michigan to Donald Trump by a mere 10,704 votes.
The calls became a resounding chorus after Iowa bungled its 2020 caucuses. Unable to announce a winner on election night, the state—and the Democratic Party—became a national punchline. It didn’t help their cause when Republicans swept all four of Iowa’s House seats, along with its four key statewide races, in this year’s midterms.
The new strategy isn’t about punishing the old guard, Dingell argues, but about making the primary process more representative, diverse, and impactful by bringing the voters who matter most in the general election into the process early. It’s also about changing the conversation.
“You saw what happened in Nevada, where it was a competitive state. We’re watching Georgia play out. And Michigan’s a purple state that has the diversity of the country,” Dingell said. “We need presidential primary candidates to have to campaign and talk about issues that are the issues that decide the election in November.”
Over in Nevada, Democrats are (somewhat quietly) smarting from what many see as a snub from the party bosses, because if they want diversity, welcome to Nevada. The state witnessed a 6.2% spike on the Census Bureau’s Diversity Index from 2010-2020. Who can argue with that data?
“I’m for a more diverse reflection of the primary calendar. That's why I believe Nevada should be first in the nation,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) told Raw Story at the Capitol on Thursday, “based on the diversity and the importance of having our voices heard early in the process.”
At this point, it doesn’t seem like there’s much more Nevada—or the other states and territories who lobbied for more prominent spots—can do.
Biden’s overhaul has been approved by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, and it still needs the approval of the entire DNC. But, after a decades-long fight, these voices of change in the DNC feel they’ve already overcome their biggest obstacles. Now they’re eager to watch their blueprint for a more in-tune and responsive Democratic Party be erected.
As for opponents and protesters? Democratic party leaders are, once again, promising to strip convention delegates from any state that jumps ahead of their party-mandated calendar slot.
Even so, New Hampshire Democrats say they’re constrained by their own state law—and a lot of nostalgic state pride. That means the politically-trodden northeastern state—whose general elections are always hotly contested by both parties—is now set on a collision course with Biden and his DNC.
“We have a law that we will abide by that sets us first, so we're going to stick to what our constituents want,” Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) told reporters just off the House floor on Friday. “We will abide by New Hampshire law.”