Democrats' 2024 Primary Plans Get More Complicated : The NPR Politics Podcast The Democratic National Committee announced South Carolina would supplant Iowa and New Hampshire as the first state in the party's 2024 nominating contests, but not everyone in the DNC is convinced it's a good idea. Meanwhile, New Hampshire and Georgia missed a DNC-imposed deadline on aligning their primaries with the party's proposed timelines. How will things shake out before the next presidential campaigns start in earnest?

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, political reporter Barbara Sprunt, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

This episode was produced by Elena Moore and Casey Morell. It was edited by Casey Morell. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Research and fact-checking by Devin Speak.

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Democrats' 2024 Primary Plans Get More Complicated

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HOLLIS: Hi. This is Hollis (ph) from Maui, Hawaii. I am currently the captain of a dive boat that is off the coast of Lanai. I'm currently waiting for my divers to return from their second dive. This podcast was recorded at...


12:31 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, January 10 of 2023.

HOLLIS: Things may have changed since the recording of the podcast, but what will not have changed is that I'll still be out here living my best life on the water, scuba diving and operating vessels. Now, it's time for the show.


DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Ah - I love how all of our listeners, like, are - you know, have this escapism that we...

KHALID: In far-flung places.

MONTANARO: ...Pine for.



SPRUNT: Can I be an assistant?

KHALID: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

SPRUNT: I'm Barbara Sprunt. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And today on the show, we're going to dig into a Democratic Party that seems to be at a crossroads. Democrats have been trying to reform their presidential nominating process. You know, that's the primaries and caucuses that are held every four years to select a nominee. Well, in trying to reform this system, the Democratic Party has realized a hard truth. It is impossible to satisfy the entire party. Iowa and New Hampshire historically have gone first. But those states are not particularly diverse. They are not particularly representative of the rest of the country or the Democratic Party. So Democrats said, OK; we're going to shake things up for 2024. They decided that they're going to change the order this time around. But that process has not been going so smoothly. Before we talk about what is going on in the process, I want to understand - actually from both of you, Domenico and Barbara - like, why does it matter which state goes first? Explain that to us.

MONTANARO: Well, it's the big show. You know, it's the first time up. People campaign for, really, almost two years now ahead of these presidential elections, and these campaigns focus on these early states because they know it'll get them the most attention, get them the most bang for their buck. And it's especially useful for a candidate who might be an upstart or a challenger. And it's useful for a front-runner to be able to, you know, almost sum it up and put it away. You know, this is a big piece of what's happened. It's given a lot of candidates momentum over the years and helped them - helped propel them through the rest of the nominating process.

SPRUNT: And, you know, to add to that, aside from the political importance there, there's also an economic factor to consider too. I mean, the states that get to go first get an outsized media presence, right? It's all the press that descends on these states, this early window of states. That means that a lot of convention halls get filled, a lot of diners get filled, a lot of hotels. I mean, this is an economic - these are the dollars, you know, and this is an economic proposition as much as anything else too.

And it's not just the money. I mean, like, you know, the - when you talk to voters in these states - if we zoom back a little bit on why there's a lot of outrage coming out of these states, why the senators of New Hampshire have been so vocally opposed to the changes - generations of voters in New Hampshire and Iowa view this like their political birthright, you know? They take this job of vetting presidential hopefuls very seriously, and they relish that they get to kind of kick the tires of who's going to be, you know, the nominee for the parties. They take it seriously. And I think when we talk about why there has been such a reaction from these states, that's an important element to consider as well.

KHALID: Gosh - so poor Iowans because it does not appear that they are going to be going first in this future nominating calendar - the Democrats.


MONTANARO: Nope (laughter).

KHALID: So let's talk about that. At the end of last year, the Democrats rolled out their plans for this new nominating process that put the state of South Carolina first. And, you know, my understanding from the reporting that you all have done is that that decision did not go over well with all Democrats.

SPRUNT: That's an understatement, yes. Yeah. You know, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC met in December, as you said. They voted on a new slate of states to go in that early nominating window - South Carolina being first. And then they put New Hampshire, which has traditionally been the first primary in the nation, second, on the same date as Nevada. And then they elevated Georgia and Michigan so that their primaries would also be included in that early window. That means New Hampshire was unhappy because it wasn't the first primary in the nation anymore. And it means that I wasn't happy 'cause it's not even in the first slate of early states at all. And I was in that room. I would say there was polite tension in the room, but you saw a lot more open revolt on Twitter. And, you know, New Hampshire basically said, this is cute. Thanks for your opinion, but we're still going to go first. We have a law on the books - a state law on the books that says we get to go first, and we plan on doing that anyway. Thanks for sharing your opinion, but we're going to do what we're going to do.

MONTANARO: Well, what's difficult about that is that the Democratic National Committee obviously controls the party process. And they can penalize states with, you know, cutting the number of delegates, for example, to the conventions, which they've done in the past. So they have some track record of following through, on Florida and Michigan, for example, in 2008, when they tried to jump the line. So they're really cautious about that. You know, for the most part, most Democrats in the DNC and otherwise are in favor of this switch. It passed through the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting. There was a deadline of January 5, last week, where the five states that they decided to move up had to all submit, you know, statements saying that they were going to be ready and able to hold primaries not just on those dates, but also to be able to do things like expand voting access - like, you know, expanding absentee voting. That's become a real hang-up for states with Republican governors and legislatures, like Georgia and New Hampshire.

KHALID: So Domenico, I want to ask you, though, a quick follow-up about South Carolina - itself going first - because, you know, as Barbara was saying, the decision got kind of slammed in some quarters. At least that's what I saw in some of the public conversation that spilled over. Is it kind of a done deal that South Carolina is going to go first, despite some of this criticism?

MONTANARO: Well, some of the criticism, you know, really centered around the fact that South Carolina was a state that really propelled President Biden - now President Biden...


MONTANARO: ...To the nomination, and he's the one who pushed for South Carolina to go first. So a lot of people see that as a bit of political payback, you know, and didn't like the optics of that. But what Democratic strategists tell me is that there's almost no way that Biden will be derailed anyway. So it doesn't particularly matter which states - and that, you know, he has his prerogative to go this direction. But I did speak with Faiz Shakir, who was Bernie Sanders' campaign manager in 2020 and is a voting DNC member.

FAIZ SHAKIR: South Carolina has no business going first for a variety of reasons. You know, it is a heavily anti-union state. It's heavily opposed to Democratic values. You look at their war on women. You look at the very conservative nature and the culture of that place.

MONTANARO: Yeah, the basic idea from him is that the states that go first should be the most competitive states in the general election so that Democrats can try to win over those voters and win in general elections.

SPRUNT: To that point, Domenico, it was really interesting because, you know, we talk about the process of the DNC changing the slate of states, but I mean, this was a long process. It didn't just happen in December. States were making pitches over the last year to the committee about, you know, why they deserved to go first. And a lot of states seemed to feel blindsided when the actual decision came out for that very reason that you alluded to about South Carolina's competitiveness because, from jump, the Bylaws Committee had said that one of the factors they were looking for when they would pick this new set of states is who's competitive in the general election in addition to, you know, diversity and voter access. And, you know, South Carolina is not what we think of when we think of a state that's competitive in the general.

KHALID: I guess what I'm hearing from supporters of the decision to put South Carolina first is, well, it's a fairly small state. It's a state that candidates and campaigns could travel across, and they don't have to have particularly well-endowed campaigns to make their pitch in South Carolina as opposed to a state like Michigan or Georgia that's just much more expensive to campaign in.

MONTANARO: Well, there's also a little bit of track record. You know, South Carolina was moved into the first four state windows and has been doing this since 2008, where candidates have now gotten kind of used to how to campaign in the state. You're right that retail politicking is also potentially possible there because it's smaller. But, you know, the real elephant in the room here is that 60-plus percent of the primary electorate in South Carolina are Black voters, and that's a big reason for why Democrats feel like this state should go first. It's been there before, and they feel like that, you know, this is a way for Democrats to really appeal to Black voters, which is a voting bloc that is, you know, one of the most if not the most strongly Democratic group. And anybody who's going to win the nomination is going to need Black voters on their side.

KHALID: So we're going to talk more about those issues because, after all, this is still a proposal. This new calendar is not yet set in stone. But first, a quick break.

And we're back. So the Democratic National Committee set a deadline for last week for states to adapt to the proposed new calendar for 2024, but not every state has been able to meet that goal - that target - mainly New Hampshire and Georgia. And Domenico, I want you to explain to us what the holdup has been.

MONTANARO: Well, it's complicated...


MONTANARO: ...And I can try to do that as simply as possible. But the fact is, it comes down to the fact that Georgia and New Hampshire have Republican legislatures and Republican governors, and some of the ways in which the DNC wants them to be able to try to expand voting access is just not something that they're actually able to functionally do. The other part of that is, in Georgia, the secretary of state's office runs the primaries, and they want the primaries for Republicans and Democrats to be on the same date to sort of keep down the cost of election administration. At the same time, the Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, has said that he doesn't want either party to have to suffer penalties, losing delegates to conventions and things like that. So they're in this little bit of a quandary here because the Republicans - the RNC has already set their calendar. And it's not the date that the Democrats have put forward, and they're not moving it.

So there's a real situation going on here. New Hampshire might be a little bit more of New Hampshire swallowing its pride because it has had this 100-year-old law on the books that it's supposed to go first. But, you know, people point out that was a long time ago and, you know, that times change and that it's a mostly white state. They'd still be going second. The Democratic Party has changed and diversified, but they have some real obstacles to get over. What the Democrats tell me - what Jim Roosevelt, who's the co-chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, told me yesterday is that there should be some flexibility. An exception will likely be granted for a state like New Hampshire, as long as they're seen to be putting forward their best effort.

KHALID: I mean, the thing that's comical to me about New Hampshire's protesting is that New Hampshire has never actually been the first state in this process for years, right? Like, I understand that they're the first primary, following up on Iowa's caucuses, but, like, they were never really the first state in this process, at least for - you know, for how many years?

SPRUNT: They would probably be pretty mad at you for saying that, but yes.


MONTANARO: Yeah, they and Iowa had this longtime handshake agreement that Iowa would go first as the first caucus, and they'd go first as the first primary. But, like, you know, now that South Carolina has a primary, they're a little annoyed.

SPRUNT: Domenico, when you're talking about the Republicans are setting their date on this date, and Democrats want it to be on this side, it just feels like a much more political, high-stakes version of, like - you know, the in-laws have set Thanksgiving, and it's the same date as your parents, and, like, how can you please both? There's no way.

MONTANARO: Right. Can't be in two places at once.

KHALID: Well, what does that mean, though? I mean, usually Republicans and Democrats do hold their primaries on the same day. I can understand that it's a lot of just logistical bureaucracy for election officials to have these on two dates. I mean, is it realistic to even think that a state would agree to having primaries on two separate dates?

MONTANARO: Well, it's been done. You know, we've seen South Carolina, for example, in 2008. When I was there, I lived there for basically two weeks because Democrats had it on one date, and Republicans had it on another, which was a really nice way to see the state. But it does happen. South Carolina controls its primary process, as does Nevada. Michigan Democrats have taken control of the Michigan State Senate, and they're putting forward legislation that's supposed to be introduced this month, the party tells me, to try to get some of these absentee ballot expansion things through. So, you know, a lot of machinations going, and it really depends on whether or not the state party or the state itself controls the primary date.

KHALID: OK. So if you all were betting folks - I know we are a year away from these contests - but if you had to put some money down and guess which state we'll be going to to hop on a plane next year, which state would you all say?

SPRUNT: Domenico, you go.

KHALID: Silence.

MONTANARO: I would say that there's two options here. If you're booking your flights, you should book either to Charleston or Columbia - South Carolina.

KHALID: South Carolina.

MONTANARO: As Donna Brazile told me, the train is leaving the station, and South Carolina is going first. And that does appear to be - at least a solid majority of the DNC members agree with that. Some of the problems that have come up really are about New Hampshire and Georgia. But right now, it looks like the train is leaving the station, and we're going to be heading to South Carolina. So get your taste buds ready for some mustard barbecue.

KHALID: Hey, at least you don't have to pack those winter snow boots. That's all I'm saying.


KHALID: All right, well, let's leave it there for today, and we'll have more on this story as it potentially evolves.

I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

SPRUNT: I'm Barbara Sprunt. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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