That has left an increasingly unruly void in which competing states lash out publicly and privately as they struggle for position before making a decision that could ultimately change the Petri dish from which Democratic presidents emerge. The fight, to be resolved at a three-day meeting in Washington, now revolves around three major issues, according to several people involved in the process, who stress the outcome is entirely uncertain.
Will Nevada or New Hampshire be blessed with first place starring? Will Michigan or Minnesota, fresh off major Democratic election victories, be chosen to replace the disadvantaged Midwestern Iowa caucuses? And will a fifth state be added to the pre-Super Tuesday window?
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is all but certain Democrats are coming for his state’s first primary in the nation, and he says there’s no chance they’ll succeed. New Hampshire state law requires its secretary of state to set the first date seven days before anyone else, and Sununu says that will happen no matter what Biden wants, potentially forcing Democratic candidates to choose between ignoring the state and the punishment to decide their party.
“Nevada wants to go first? Can we all laugh about this? They’re still counting a hell of a lot of votes,” Sununu said in an interview a week after the midterm elections. “It’s not something – ‘I get it because I want it’ like a stubborn kid. You have to earn it with high turnout, transparency, results, quick access to winners and if you need to do a recount – we did four recounts yesterday – boom, done.”
He warned that if the Democrats black out the state’s primary, New Hampshire voters will remember the general election, potentially jeopardizing the four state electoral votes that Biden won in 2020, you know, insinuating that we do not doing right“ he said.
Rebecca Lambe, the former chief political strategist for the late Nevada Senator Harry M. Reid, snapped back that Democrats shouldn’t listen to Republican opinion when trying to diversify the early primary process. She has argued that Nevada should go first, warning that big, expensive states will jump to the front of the line.
“I don’t think the DNC should take their advice from a Republican governor who wants to run for president against Joe Biden,” Lambe said, before turning her words on New Hampshire’s bid for the first spot. “They have some of the worst and most restrictive electoral laws in the country. They have no early voting, no absentee ballots, and they’ve made it a lot harder for college students to vote.”
Michigan and Minnesota, meanwhile, are locked in their own behind-the-scenes battle over which Midwest state is best suited to replace Iowa, a move that top Democratic advisers have hinted at.
Democrats in both states gained trifecta control of the governor and state legislatures during the midterm elections — even as Nevada lost its Democratic governor. That will allow Democratic state leaders to set dates for their states if the party chooses to move them up — either by creating separate dates for Democrats and Republicans, or by forcing the Republican to vote against their own primary violating her party’s schedule, leaving the 2016 order unaltered by Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
“Both states now clearly have a way of doing this,” said Ken Martin, leader of Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. “We will have a lively discussion over the next few weeks.”
Michigan Democrats, viewed by some committee members as frontrunners for replacing Midwest Iowa ahead of the Midterms, remain optimistic about their own prospects.
“Michigan is a purple state for Republicans and Democrats, and we need states in this early window that reflect the diversity of our country and that will begin building the infrastructure for our general election,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich. ) .
Some South Carolina Democrats are concerned about Michigan — which was awarded 125 pledged delegates in 2020, more than New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina combined — entering the early window because of fears the large delegate movement will force candidates to do so to spend most of their time there .
“We’ve always added smaller states to the pre-window calendar, and for good reasons,” said Carol Fowler, a South Carolina member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee. “If Michigan had been in an early state, I’m not sure President Carter would ever have become president. I think Barack Obama benefited from having small states at the top. I think it’s so helpful for a good, strong candidate who isn’t well funded yet.”
Fowler said their animus isn’t specifically geared toward Michigan, but rather toward broader concerns about a large state looking to move up the order.
“I will consider every state that has applied, but I have yet to see any reason to support a large state,” she said.
But Clyburn, the dean of the South Carolina Democrats and a close Biden ally, said he will not turn down Michigan’s bid to enter the front window as long as it doesn’t overshadow South Carolina and other Southern states voting on Super Tuesday.
“If it’s Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, that’s almost ideal for me,” he said, although he cautioned that New Hampshire’s law could hamper efforts to get it past Nevada. He said he’s also open to New Hampshire and Nevada going on the same day, which Sununu has ruled out.
Clyburn said he has not discussed the calendar with Biden, but when asked if he plans to do so, he said, “I reserve the right to comment.”
Iowa, which has been placed on the defensive, continues to ask for an early-trial role. Scott Brennan, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee from Iowa, said the calendar review process has so far been “clumsy and a little surprising” given the success of Democratic presidential candidates who have won the popular vote in every election since 2008 using it of the current system.
“At least in terms of Iowa, there is no other candidate from the Midwest pool that meets the requirement that has always been demanded, which is a state that is accessible to candidates who don’t start the process with $1 billion “, he said. “The other Midwestern candidates are too big, too cumbersome and way too expensive, and the members of the committee know that.”
Senior Democrats began meeting publicly in March to discuss overhauling the nomination calendar after top Biden advisers made clear their displeasure with the Caucuses in Iowa, a largely white state that avoided Biden’s campaign and struggled to get the results to count in 2020. Democrats have said they were concerned about the amount of money and effort Democrats were spending in a state that has become less competitive in general elections.
Party officials passed guidelines for the calendar revision that would prioritize states that commit to holding primary elections, demonstrate general election competitiveness and are demographically diverse.
The entire DNC also this year passed rules empowering the party leader to take “reasonable action” against candidates and state parties who do not adhere to the official primary election calendar. These could include barring state delegates from the Democratic convention and denying candidates whose names appear on state ballots access to nomination debates or party data.
Whether these penalties come into play depends largely on the established calendar. A White House spokesman declined to comment on the article. But some comment, whether public or private, is likely to come from Biden’s inner circle soon.
“Everyone’s still waiting for the smoke signal from the White House,” said a member of the Rules of Procedure and Bylaws Committee, who, like several others for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations.