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The DNC Announces the 2024 Primary Calendar It Would Like

On Saturday, the DNC met and approved a new primary schedule it would like. Here it is:

Proposed Democratic primary schedule; SC on Feb. 3,
NH and NV on the 6th, GA on the 13th and MI on the 27th

This plan was "suggested" by Joe Biden and the DNC fell in line. Putting South Carolina first is intended to head off any potential primary challenge at the pass. If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or some other progressive candidate were to challenge Biden, that candidate will be crushed in South Carolina and written off by the media as a total failure.

Putting Nevada and New Hampshire on the same day is intended to weaken New Hampshire in the future. Most candidates won't want to zip back and forth across the country between these two states, so probably most will skip New Hampshire and campaign only in Nevada, which has a large Latino population. The likely result is that candidates who appeal to Black voters will do well in South Carolina and candidates who appeal to Latinos will do well in Nevada. Candidates who don't appeal to either group (paging Pete Buttigieg) will start out at a disadvantage. Having two diverse swing states come next provides a good test of how well the various candidates would do there, something critical in the general election. It is not clear why February 20 was left open. Maybe this is a concession to people who are planning to over-celebrate President's Day and not be in any condition to vote the day after. Note that Iowa is nowhere to be found in this list. Take that, Iowa!

Now go reread the headline of this item: "The DNC Announces the 2024 Primary Calendar It Would Like." It does not say: "The DNC Announces the 2024 Primary Calendar," even though that is shorter. The reason is that the states, not the parties, control when primaries are held. New Hampshire has a century-old law requiring its primary to be held a week before any other primary and it authorizes the secretary of state to choose the primary date to accomplish this. The current secretary is David Scanlan (R), who followed Bill Gardner (D), who held the job for 46 years until he retired in 2022. Gardner famously said that he would hold the primary before Halloween if he had to in order to be first. It remains to be seen how Scanlan will react to the DNC's plan. He could simply announce that the New Hampshire primary will be on Jan. 23, thus forcing Iowa to Jan. 16. The Democrats could huff and puff but it's Scanlan's decision, not theirs. The Democrats could try to get the law changed, but since the Republicans control the trifecta in New Hampshire and Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) might run for president himself, they are not likely to do anything to help the Democrats.

As we pointed out last week, if New Hampshire holds its primary first anyway and the DNC punishes anyone who files to run in it, someone like Marianne Williamson is likely to file, run, and win, generating "Marianne Williamson wins New Hampshire in a landslide" headlines. The DNC definitely does not want this, but won't be able to prevent it since the Republicans have all the power in the Granite State and Williamson marches to the beat of her own drummer.

In South Carolina and Georgia, the Republicans also hold the trifecta. South Carolina might possibly agree to go first since it will bring in candidates, reporters, and lots and lots of money (but see below). South Carolina Republicans are quite Trumpish, so Donald Trump might urge the state to move its primary to Feb. 3 and the legislature might well do it to please him. But maybe not.

Georgia could also be a problem. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) also gets to set the primary date. He has ruled out holding the Democratic and Republican primaries on different days and wants to be fair to both parties. If the RNC agrees to Feb. 13, he would probably be willing to hold the primary then. But last year, the RNC voted to affirm its support for the traditional list: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, in that order. Since the Republicans hold the trifecta in the first three and Nevada has split power, it is easy to imagine Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina sticking to their traditional dates. Since Raffensperger doesn't want to hold two primaries, Georgia wouldn't be one of the early states.

Now, what about Michigan? Under RNC rules, it is not one of the early states and may not go before super Tuesday. Democrats control the trifecta there, so they could move their primary to Feb. 27 if they want to, but then the RNC will penalize the state by reducing the size of its delegation. The Democratic-controlled state legislature might see that as a feature rather than as a bug, allowing Democrats to say: "Republicans hate Michigan."

And Iowa? Since the RNC wants it to go first and Republicans have the trifecta there, it will probably go first. New Hampshire law says it must hold the first primary, but the law doesn't say anything about caucuses. So unless something unexpected happens, Iowa will go first and New Hampshire will go second, despite what the DNC wants. And if Marianne Williamson wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, the media will go nuts with "President Williamson." If Biden is the only serious Democratic candidate in 2024, none of this may matter, even if Iowa goes first and then New Hampshire, but in 2028 we could have a royal mess.

Biden and the DNC should really have thought this through better. They all know which party has the trifecta where. It's not a secret. The only thing the Democrats could conceivably do is to hold caucuses rather than primaries. Caucuses are run by the parties, not the state. So if the South Carolina Democratic Party wants to hold a caucus on Feb. 3, it can do so, although it has to pay for it. But the Democrats are trying to get rid of caucuses because Iowa-style caucuses are less democratic than primaries. Of course, the Democrats could run caucuses like in Washington state, where the voters come in, vote, and go home. That's just a primary in caucus' clothing.

Another possibility would be to scrap the plan altogether and move up states where Democrats have control. Put Rhode Island, which is much more diverse than New Hampshire, right after South Carolina. Then Nevada a week later and Michigan a week after that. Forget Georgia as an early state as the Republicans don't want it and Raffensperger won't do it without their consent. If the Democrats want to force the RNC's hand, it could have Rhode Island vote on Jan. 3 to force New Hampshire to vote just after Christmas and Iowa to vote just before it, when nobody is paying attention. We suspect this is going to take a while to play out. (V)

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