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Biden asks Democrats: Make South Carolina first-in-the-nation presidential primary state

Election 2020 Joe Biden (copy)

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, accompanied by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., speaks at a primary night election rally in Columbia on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. File/Matt Rourke/AP

President Joe Biden is asking national Democrats to ditch Iowa and instead make South Carolina the party's first-in-the-nation primary, giving the Palmetto State voters who saved his 2020 White House bid the power to weigh in first on future presidential hopefuls.

A voting member of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws panel confirmed Biden's plans to The Post and Courier. 

Committee member Carol Fowler of Columbia said in a text message that the president's wishes were conveyed first in a letter, which the Washington Post first reported. Biden's letter, obtained by The Post and Courier, does not specifically say which states he would like to see go first. The letter does express a desire for the state order to be revisited every four years.

At a Dec. 1 dinner in Washington, D.C., Fowler said the co-chairs of the committee named the states that Biden told them he wanted.

The president's letter and his hopes to increase South Carolina's role in the nominating process comes as the Democratic rules committee gathers this week in the nation's capital, where they will consider shaking up the presidential primary calendar starting in 2024.

A vote is expected as early as Friday. In his letter, which was written on personal stationary that did not carry the White House seal, Biden stressed the importance of diversity in the primary process.

"For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” the president wrote. "We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process."

He added: "Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process."

South Carolina’s population is 27 percent Black compared with Iowa’s 4 percent, and it also is where Biden’s campaign was revived in 2020 after he struggled in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"It appears as though President Biden is not only transforming our country, he's transforming the way in which we nominate presidents," Trav Robertson, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told The Post and Courier. "He is going to have a lasting impact on America."

According to a report by the Washington Post, a specific line-up is already in mind, with South Carolina as the nation's first primary state, followed by New Hampshire, and Nevada a week later. After that, Georgia and Michigan would hold primaries of their own, the newspaper reported, citing Democrats briefed on the plans.

If this plan is adopted, it would send shockwaves through the Democratic Party and upend decades of tradition. It would represent the first major shakeup in the nominating calendar in 16 years, when South Carolina and Nevada were added to the early state window. 

Already, word of Biden’s guidance has sparked anger in New Hampshire, where state law calls for it to hold the nation’s first primary.

New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen issued a statement blasting "the White House’s short-sighted decision."

Fellow New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan said in a statement, "I strongly oppose the President’s deeply misguided proposal, but make no mistake, New Hampshire’s law is clear and our primary will continue to be First in the Nation."

The shuffling comes months after the rules committee passed a resolution in April that sought a new presidential nominating process that more accurately "reflects the diversity of the party."

That new plan effectively tossed out the traditional presidential nominating calendar for Democrats, which has historically put the Iowa caucuses first, followed by primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

This year, any state that wanted to hold an early contest before the rest of the country in 2024 had to apply and, in the case of South Carolina, reapply. 

The Republican National Committee voted earlier this year to keep their four lead-off states in their usual order: Iowa, then New Hampshire, followed by South Carolina and Nevada.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-998-5404 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Senior Politics Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is the senior politics reporter at The Post and Courier. An award-winning reporter, Byrd previously worked as an enterprise reporter for The State newspaper, where she covered the Charleston region and South Carolina politics.

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