The South Carolina Democratic Party office. (Photos by Dylan Jackson)
South Carolina Democrats think the new presidential primary order shuffle is a step forward for the party.
“We’ve made a big impact on the nominating process because we’ve been early anyway,” said Jay Parmley, executive director of the S.C. Democratic Party. “Going first means that candidates pay more attention to South Carolina. … We have more attention than we did before.”
The Democratic National Committee voted in early February to make South Carolina’s presidential primary the first in the 2024 presidential nominating process.
“It reflects the diversity of our party,” Jamie Harrison, the DNC Chair, said in an interview with MSNBC.
President Joe Biden told the DNC of the need for diversity in a letter about the presidential primary process to the DNC in December. South Carolina has the largest non-white population among the early primary states in 2020: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada.
“It will show the country that Black voter really make a difference in elections and once we invest in them early and take them seriously, we can better understand the trajectory of our country,” said Bre Maxwell, an S.C. Democratic national committeewoman, in an email to The Carolina News & Reporter.
South Carolina is likely to remain first in the order beyond 2024, said Todd Shaw, an associate professor of political science at the University of South Carolina.
“I do see this as being a case of Democrats having to decide on this order for at least a while,” Shaw said. “If it changed every election cycle, it would be very difficult for prospective candidates to come up with a strategy based on the previous cycle.”
South Carolina since 2008 has been among the first four states in the Democratic presidential primary order.
Moving to first in the order means even more attention from early Democratic candidates.
“It shows that the president of the United States has demonstrated his respect for and appreciation of South Carolina,” S.C. Rep. Jim Clyburn told the Associated Press. Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden in 2020 brought the future president his first win after losing in three other states that year.
Biden won the S.C. contest with 48.6% of the vote, beating Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer, who had 19.8% and 11.3%, respectively.
“I think Biden sees it as an opportunity to reinforce the coalition that was pivotal to his election,” Shaw said. “South Carolina and congressman Jim Clyburn turned around the fortunes of his presidential campaign.”
The proposed plan is not final. Something to be worked out, for example, is that a New Hampshire state law says the state has to be the first in the primary cycle.
South Carolina is also a cheaper state to campaign in compared to larger media markets in Georgia and Texas.
“If not more moderate candidates, candidates who might be further down in the pack (or have less money) might be able to emerge with a little bit more of a springboard,” Shaw said.
Bernie Sanders led the 2020 race coming into South Carolina, winning in both New Hampshire and Nevada.
Among the other reasons for the change was the need to eliminate caucuses, according to Biden in the mentioned letter. He called the small group-voting style “anti-worker.” Both Iowa and Nevada used the caucus process in 2020.
Parmley thinks Biden was instrumental in changing the Democratic presidential primary order.
“It’s not just that (South Carolina) put him on the road to the White House,” Parmley said. “His whole life’s experience he has campaigned here. … He’s the one that wanted (the order to change). That’s why it happened.”
South Carolina under the proposal will kick off the 2024 Democratic primary on Feb. 3, 2024. New Hampshire and Nevada will follow on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.
“SC is a powerhouse and I know we will remain first as long as we want to,” Maxwell said in an email.
Parmley thinks Biden will run for re-election in 2024. The possibility that he might not run could result in another hotly contested primary.
“It would change everything,” Parmley said. “We would see all of these candidates coming here, all of this attention. It would be an open primary, just like we had in 2020, just like we had in 2016.”