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National Democrats' proposal to shuffle presidential primary puts N.H.'s lead role at risk

A key panel of Democratic National Committee is considering a plan that could reshuffle the party’s presidential nominating calendar, potentially dislodging New Hampshire from its decades-long leadoff spot.

During a virtual meeting of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee Monday night, party leaders appeared to be leaning towards allowing any U.S. state or territory to apply to hold an early nominating contest in presidential primaries. The final order would be decided based on factors including diversity and general election competitiveness of the state. Tradition would not be an officially recognized criteria.

“We can’t just do the same thing over and over again, because it’s tradition or it’s status quo,” said rules committee member Maria Cardona. “Our country is changing, we need to change with it.”

For half a century, the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary have together led off the presidential nominating calendar for Democrats and Republicans. But both states have come under increased criticism from national Democrats, including presidential candidates, for being non-representative – too rural and too white – to continue in those roles.

South Carolina and Nevada have more recently also won the DNC's permission to hold nominating contests before the rest of the country. Since 2008, the four early-voting states have existed in an at-times uneasy alliance atop the calendar.

If the DNC ends up approving the resolution discussed Monday, as many as five states could be part of that new early nominating process.

In any event Iowa, where final results in the 2020 caucus weren’t certified for three weeks, is widely expected to lose its spot. But what this proposal could mean for New Hampshire is less clear.

New Hampshire’s representative on the committee, Joanne Dowdell, didn’t comment directly on the proposal Monday. Her lone remarks during the hour-long meeting was to request that the DNC maximize national participation in listening sessions planned to take input on the plan.

“I think in our effort to be as transparent and accessible as possible that we schedule those sessions at varying times to allow the broadest number of participants,” Dowdell said.

The timetable for those sessions, planned for the summer, isn’t clear. DNC bylaws chairman Jim Roosevelt of Massachusetts suggested the committee’s first order of business will be to update this proposal before a committee vote that could take place as soon as next month, with a final report to be presented at a DNC meeting in August or September.

Multiple committee members stressed the importance of adopting a calendar likely to get a Democrat elected president in 2024. Several also cited the need for buy-in from the candidates themselves.

“We have always put first our desire to get a process that would get us a nominee who is best equipped to win,” said Carol Fowler of South Carolina. “I hope we will only have one candidate in 2024.”

In 2020, South Carolina set then-candidate Joe Biden on his course to be president. After finishing in fourth place in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a distant second in Nevada, Biden won South Carolina by 28 points.

On primary night there, Biden called South Carolina, where Black voters dominate the Democratic electorate, “the heart of the Democratic Party.”

DNC Chairman Jamie Harrison, a South Carolina native, told the committee its work is to position Democrats to win up and down the ballot, from the presidency to the local level, and they should reevaluate the nominating calendar for 2024 with that in mind.

“We need to see this process as an opportunity, an opportunity to encourage states to highlight their strengths, encouraging states to share the ways they embody democratic values,” Harrison said.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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