South Carolina going first in the primaries would help Democrats, but it’s not a done deal

OPINION: Black voters shouldn’t have to wait to chose a presidential nominee, which is why the Democratic National Committee voted to change the primary calendar. But delegates in Iowa and New Hampshire may still reject the change.

(L-R) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with U.S. Rep. and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) as Clyburn announces his endorsement for Biden at Trident Technical College February 26, 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The Democratic National Committee recently voted to put South Carolina's 2024 Democratic presidential primary first on the calendar. (Photo by Drew Angerer/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.

The winter of 2020 was treacherous for Joe Biden. After an abysmal performance in Iowa that left him with a fourth place finish, Biden felt the sting of a compounded one-two-punch when he lost New Hampshire and Nevada in consecutive weeks. Next on the 2020 primary schedule was South Carolina, a last glimmer of hope for team Biden. 

Make no mistake, Biden needed a miracle, and we all know how it turned out. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and some of the first Black voters to participate in the presidential primary, answered the call and resurrected Biden’s 2020 campaign in one fell swoop. Some would argue that’s the only reason that the Democratic National Committee just voted to move South Carolina to the top of the 2024 primary schedule, and that this is Biden’s “thank you” to South Carolina, which is plausible. But the truth is that Black voters shouldn’t have to wait months to weigh in and pick a presidential nominee in the first place, and this long-overdue vote to change the primary schedule is going to benefit the Democratic Party.

Before you ask, no, there aren’t many Black and brown voters in Iowa and New Hampshire as both states are aggressively homogeneous. Iowa’s demographic population clocks in at 90.1% white, 4.3% Black, 6.7% Latino, 3% Asian-American Pacific Islander, and 0.6% Native American. And New Hampshire’s population is even less diverse with the following breakdown: 92.8% white, 1.9% Black, 4.4% Latino, 3.2% Asian-American Pacific Islander, and 0.3% Native American. In stark contrast, South Carolina is the first primary contest with a significantly higher number of Black voters as nearly 27% of the state’s population is Black, and 60% of voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary are Black. And if the delegates of the Democratic National Committee get their way, then South Carolina and Nevada a few days later will lead the primary schedule, and those voters, which are far more representative of the diversity of the nation and the Democratic Party’s actual base of supporters, will have an outsized role in choosing the next president. Can you imagine South Carolina getting the media hype and party infrastructure investment that Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed for the past 50 years? Our politics and our candidates will be forever changed. 

However, the “if” in that previous statement is doing a lot of work as the recent DNC vote to move South Carolina to the front of the primary schedule doesn’t make it a done deal. What will happen next will most likely mirror a messy episode of “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen,” but instead of Robyn Dixon sitting in the hot seat, it’ll be delegates for Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Party leaders and elected officials from both states have every intention of rejecting this change with every ounce of their being. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart claims that Democrats have “turned their back on Iowa and rural America,” which translates to white people as we know South Carolina has a significant population of rural Black voters. Meanwhile, New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan declared on the bird app, “Regardless of the DNC vote, New Hampshire will go first.” Hart seems to be ignoring the fact that Iowa’s demotion is warranted not only because of the lack of diversity in the state but also because of the highly dysfunctional 2020 caucus that took them weeks to call because they failed to test the new vote-counting technology. Hassan on the other hand is leaning on a state law that requires New Hampshire to be the first primary contest at least one week before any other state, which Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and state legislators could simply choose to just not change.

Ultimately, with state leaders in the driver’s seat in New Hampshire, the only thing the DNC can rely on is the threat of consequences if either state ignores the change to the primary schedule. Penalties include the state parties losing delegates and candidates who put their names on the ballots being barred from the debate stage. Either way, this showdown is primed to get messy, and we should brace ourselves for an unsanctioned primary in 2024.

Juanita Tolliver

Juanita Tolliver is the host of Crooked Media’s “What A Day” Podcast, and an MSNBC political analyst.

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