New Democratic primary order recognizes the importance of Black votes

OPINION: Holding early primaries in states with large populations of Black people and other people of color will inevitably prompt candidates to pay more attention to issues of importance to our communities.

Joe Biden, with Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), speaks on stage after declaring victory in the South Carolina presidential primary on February 29, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. South Carolina will now be the first state to vote in the 2024 Democratic presidential primaries. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

President Joe Biden understands that Democrats can’t win elections without the strong support of Black voters and other voters of color. That’s why he recently recommended sensible changes in the order of early Democratic presidential primaries to give nonwhite voters a greater voice.

In a letter sent Dec. 2 to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, on which I serve, the president wrote: “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. 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.”  

I joined my colleagues on the committee to adopt the president’s proposed schedule of early primaries. If the full Democratic National Committee approves our recommendation and states follow our rules (some are already threatening they will not), the first presidential primary will be held in South Carolina on Feb. 3, 2024, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27. With the exception of New Hampshire, all these states reflect the diversity of our nation’s population and are likely to be hotly contested in 2024. 

Nominating a presidential candidate who can attract voters of color is vital because in the 2020 presidential election, only 44 percent of white voters cast ballots for Biden. However, Biden was elected because he won a majority of voters of color, including 90 percent of Black voters — higher than any other group. 

In the midterm elections this year, Democratic candidates won only 39 percent of the white vote on average, but a majority of voters of color — including 83 percent of the Black vote.

This means that Black voters played not just a key role in Biden’s 2020 election but in the strong performance by Democrats in elections this year. In fact, Democrats gained a seat, for a narrow 51-49 Senate majority. The last time a sitting Democratic president gained Senate seats in a midterm election was 1962. Although Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has decided to switch her party affiliation and become an independent, the Democrats are still in control of the U.S. Senate.

The House is a different story. Republicans won 221 seats in the House to 213 for Democrats (with one race still undecided) — a far smaller majority than had been expected.

Black support for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in his runoff election on Dec. 6 against Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia was nearly unanimous. A poll conducted just before the runoff between the two Black senatorial candidates found that 69 percent of white voters supported Walker, but most voters of color — including 96 percent of Black voters — supported Warnock. That gave Warnock victory in a close election.

U.S. President Joe Biden gives remarks on student debt relief at Delaware State University on October 21, 2022 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Democrats also picked up three additional governorships (Maryland, Massachusetts and Arizona) in the midterms, increasing the number of governorships they control to 24, and gained seats in state legislatures.

Iowa has begun the presidential nomination process since 1972 with caucuses, in which people gather on one night for hours in homes, union halls, local schools or elsewhere to debate the merits of competing candidates and then vote for their choice. Biden wants to see caucuses replaced by primaries to give more people the opportunity to vote. New Hampshire has been holding the first presidential primary since 1920.

I’ve worked for candidates as well as served as campaign manager for Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire over many presidential campaign cycles. The people are friendly, hardworking, patriotic and keenly interested in politics. But according to the Census Bureau, New Hampshire is 93 percent white and only 2 percent Black, while Iowa is 90 percent white and just 4 percent Black. In contrast, Black people make up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population.

The Census Bureau reports that South Carolina is nearly 27 percent Black, Nevada is nearly 11 percent Black and 30 percent Latino, Georgia is 33 percent Black and Michigan is 14 percent Black. Moving these states to the front of the primary calendar will give voters of color a well-deserved seat at the table to winnow down the list of presidential contenders in a multicandidate field. 

If Biden seeks the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024, as he has said he intends to do, the new order of primaries won’t make a huge difference, because no Democrat is expected to mount a serious challenge to him. However, if Biden makes a surprise decision not to run in 2024, the new order could help determine who gets the nomination. Biden also recommended that the party review the early line-up every four years which is healthy for Democrats as more Americans would become exposed to this unique process of sending delegates to a convention to help elect our next president. 

Having been a part of this unique process for over forty years of my political life, I have never advocated for the removal of any state but will continue to argue that other Americans should have a chance to help select the next of the United States, including Black Americans.

Iowa and New Hampshire have reaped many benefits from starting off the presidential nominating process. TV and radio stations, newspapers and websites based in the states make money on political ads. Candidates and their staff, along with journalists from around the world, visit the states and spend money on food and lodging. All this generates hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity in the two states. Trust me, I rented an apartment in the 1988 cycle and spent countless months in 2000 helping my candidate former Vice President Al Gore win the Iowa caucuses.

When you spend that kind of time in those states, you get to know the people and the issues. Most importantly, presidential candidates often advocate for positions they expect will gain votes in those early-voting states. Holding early primaries in states with large populations of Black people and other people of color will inevitably prompt candidates to pay more attention to issues of importance to our communities. 

I hope the full Democratic National Committee and the states affected by the new primary order will accept the proposal by President Biden. In 2024, Democrats need to focus all their energies on holding onto the White House and helping to build a more inclusive, safe and prosperous America that lives up to our ideals and the values we cherish. 


Donna Brazile Headshot thegrio.com

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile.

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