Democrats’ Primary Election Nightmare

Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2023
by Shane Harris

AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris


The Democratic National Committee’s major shakeup of the Democrat primary calendar last year has touched off a wave of chaos and controversy within the party that could potentially be a big problem for President Joe Biden in his re-election bid.

The drama began last December when DNC officials voted to have the South Carolina primary, not the Iowa caucuses, be the first Democrat presidential nominating contest, bucking five decades of tradition. That would mean that New Hampshire – traditionally the first “primary” state (as opposed to a caucus state) – would also lose its coveted “first-in-the-nation” status.

Citing a need for “more diversity” in early states, Democrats adopted a plan that would have South Carolina hold its primary on February 3, 2024, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on February 6, Georgia on February 13, and Michigan on February 27. Iowa, meanwhile, would not hold its caucuses until Super Tuesday in March.

The move was at least in part driven by President Joe Biden, who issued a public letter to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee recommending five specific changes to the primary process – all of which the DNC ultimately adopted. Notably, South Carolina played a major role in propelling Biden to the nomination in 2020 after he struggled in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But the DNC’s reordering understandably did not sit well with Democrat officials or voters in New Hampshire and Iowa. For decades, those two states have enjoyed outsized attention from candidates looking to establish themselves early in the race – something which has been a big boost to local economies.

“This is the biggest threat that New Hampshire has ever faced in over 100 years of voting, and it’s being brought by Joe Biden, an individual that ran for president three times here,” Chris Ryan, a New Hampshire radio host, told his audience following the news.

The DNC’s changes also appeared to violate a New Hampshire law which says that the Granite State must hold its primary at least seven days before any other state’s primary. (Iowa had only been able to circumvent New Hampshire’s law by holding a caucus instead of a primary.)

As a result, New Hampshire Democrats are going rogue and refusing to give up their first-in-the-nation status. As of now, the state party plans to hold its primary on January 23, 2024 – ahead of South Carolina. Republican Governor Chris Sununu has also made clear that he has no intention of changing the law, telling reporters earlier this year, “We are going first.”

Iowa has been even more of a debacle for the DNC. In June, Iowa Democrats submitted a plan to the DNC to hold their caucuses on the same night as Iowa Republicans – now set for January 15, 2023. The DNC unsurprisingly rejected the proposal, but the Iowa Democratic Party has similarly refused to back down.

There’s also another problem with Iowa Democrats’ plan. The state party has announced that it will offer a new “caucus-by-mail” process, as opposed to the traditional in-person caucuses. But Republicans in the Iowa legislature recently passed a law requiring that all caucuses be held in person to prevent the contest from becoming too similar to a primary – thus bringing the New Hampshire law into play.

For President Biden, this primary mess of his own creation has added unnecessary drama and distraction to his re-nomination effort. If there is no resolution in the standoff between the DNC and the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic Parties, the DNC bylaws say that those states will automatically lose half their delegates – which could incite backlash among Democrat primary voters in those states.

Other Democrats in New Hampshire and Iowa could also be on the receiving end of voters’ ire for the DNC’s decision. Ahead of Senator Maggie Hassan’s re-election bid last year, one conservative PAC warned in a two-minute ad that national Democrats were gearing up to strip New Hampshire of its first-in-the-nation status, and the issue could make an appearance in general election debates up and down the ballot next year.

If the DNC and New Hampshire Democrats can’t reach an agreement – something which looks increasingly likely – national Democrats will officially boycott the state’s primary. That means Biden would not be on the ballot, and a challenger like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (already polling near 15 percent) or Marianne Williamson would technically end up winning the state.

Such an occurrence is unlikely to prevent Biden from being nominated, but it could be a major embarrassment for the president and generate a few days of negative headlines.

At the same time, political observers will be watching closely to see whether positive attention for Kennedy on New Hampshire primary night could potentially launch his campaign into contention in other states. This would end up forcing Biden to devote resources to the primary (something which has historically been a bad omen for sitting presidents) when he would prefer to focus on the general election.

For an incumbent president whom a majority of Democrats didn’t even want on the ticket next year in the first place, seemingly small blows like these could snowball into something catastrophic.

Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio.

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