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Concerns arise over the DNC's new primary calendar

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For generations, Iowa and New Hampshire have gone first in picking presidential nominees, but Democrats want to upend that tradition.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden and the Democratic National Committee put forward a new calendar the other day in which South Carolina would go first, which is, of course, raising a lot of questions.

MARTIN: To answer some of them. We've got NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro with us. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Before getting to the consequences of this change, remind us what the White House and the DNC are proposing.

MONTANARO: Well, they want to kick Iowa out of the first states, demote New Hampshire and elevate South Carolina and a few others. South Carolina would go first on February 3, 2024. Three days later, Nevada and New Hampshire, then Georgia a week later, and Michigan two weeks after that.

MARTIN: Why?

MONTANARO: Well, the Iowa Democratic Party, frankly, botched their vote reporting in 2020. But I have to say, that's just sort of the last crack in the dam. You know, this was a long time coming. Iowa has started to move more solidly into Republicans' column in presidential elections. And more importantly, it really doesn't reflect the growing demographic diversity of the Democratic Party. And that's a point that was emphasized by Donna Brazile, the long-time party activist and member of the committee that pushed this through. Here's what she told me.

DONNA BRAZILE: It's like going to a dinner party, and everyone has been served an appetizer and had the full menu. And when it comes time to dessert, we say, well, we're out of food. That's not the way we should do it in the Democratic Party.

MONTANARO: She also said that Democrats are looking at potentially reassessing the calendar now every four years.

MARTIN: So there are going to be people who don't like this plan. South Carolina clearly jumps out as a state that helped propel Joe Biden to the nomination. It's not exactly a swing state.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and there are people who are saying exactly that. You know, that's a point that Faiz Shakir, who was Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign manager and who is a voting DNC delegate - he says that he won't be voting for this proposal because he sees South Carolina as too culturally conservative, that it's not going to go blue anytime soon and that it strikes him as something else.

FAIZ SHAKIR: I think that President Biden made a decision that smacks of political favoritism. I can respect and appreciate that the president feels fondness toward South Carolina. Those are all appropriate feelings. However, none of those feelings are strategically the reason why South Carolina should go first.

MONTANARO: You know, lots of others who do support this plan point out that South Carolina in a primary is made up of 60% Black voters. And Black voters, of course, are a key demographic group for Democrats. Shakir says that his point, though, is strictly about competitiveness and that there are sizable Black populations in swing states like Georgia and Michigan. Beyond demographics, though, others have really warned against having too many big states frontloaded in the calendar because it could eliminate retail politics - you know, when voters get to test candidates up close. And that's the very thing that Iowa and New Hampshire were so good at.

MARTIN: So critics are making their voices heard because this is not a done deal, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's definitely not. States have until January 5 to go back to the DNC with a plan that shows that they'd actually be able to do this. Already, Georgia looks like it might not be able to because the secretary of state's office runs elections and is insisting on having both parties' primaries on the same day. And Republicans already voted on their calendar, and Georgia's not in the top several states. New Hampshire, which has held the first primary for more than a hundred years, is going to fight this tooth and nail and very well may go first anyway, despite some promised penalties, including candidates who campaign there could be kept off debate stages. One thing, though, that's probably for sure, Iowa is probably out. No more talk of butter cows, at least for a while with the Democrats.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.