Friday, December 16, 2022

Democrats Mull Changes to the 2024 Calendar?

Which Democrats?

According to The Hill, there are "vocal concerns about South Carolina from all corners of the party." But the tell that these are not serious concerns is in the supposed compromise states being offered as substitutes for the newly tabbed first state in the 2024 pre-window lineup. 

North Carolina?

Democrats in the Tar Heel state did not even apply for a waiver when the process was opened up by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) earlier in 2022. If one thinks South Carolina Democrats -- a state party that has been knowingly and willingly involved in the pre-window period of the calendar for four cycles now -- were surprised by being moved in President Biden's proposal to the first slot, then imagine how North Carolina Democrats would feel at having the honor fall in their laps. Any initial elation would quickly subside, overtaken by the need to actually prepare for being first.

Specifically, North Carolina has a near Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, where any effort to move the presidential primary would start. In theory, Republican legislators may like a more prominent position on the calendar. But in practice, none of them would like seeing the state's Republican delegation slashed by more than 80 percent. State Democrats cannot work around that roadblock. Nor can the national party.


FHQ has discussed this in depth elsewhere, but Georgia has a Republican obstacle of its own. Brad Raffensperger, Republican secretary of state in the Peach state, has signaled that his office will not jeopardize either party's full slate of delegates and has no interest in taxing election workers across two presidential primaries (nor for adding the costs of a second presidential primary to accommodate the DNC plan).

Yes, Georgia was a part of the proposed Biden pre-window slate, but it was always wishful thinking that the national party, much less Georgia Democrats, could make that change happen given the existing constraints. It was an aspirational move with little downside. "Hey, we tried to add Georgia as an early state, but local Republicans stood in our way," is not a bad argument to make in a closely divided state. By itself, that probably will not move many votes, but as part of a larger narrative about Republican obstruction it might. 


Well, at least Nevada makes some sense. Heading into the DNCRBC meeting in early December, the Silver state seemed to be vying for the top slot with New Hampshire and then ended up getting lumped into the same second position alongside the primary in the Granite state. 

But Nevada, like North Carolina and Georgia above, has potential Republican opposition to any move. The new governor stands in the way of any change to the date of the primary. Moreover, the contest is already scheduled for February 6. South Carolina could be moved back in the order (along with New Hampshire) to make way for the Silver state to go first. 

That makes some sense (and was probably why Nevada garnered so much "first" chatter in the first place).

But here's the thing: the DNC cannot signal to one important constituency (African Americans) that they are moving a state (South Carolina) to better calibrate their collective voice in the process and then take it back without some backlash. And that backlash would likely be far greater than the "concerns" that are quietly making their way around some parts of the broader Democratic Party coalition. 

Folks, this is politics. Any move, significant like this one or otherwise, is going to create perceived winners and losers. After all, there is already a burgeoning cottage industry speculating about what these calendar changes may mean for candidates in 2028! There are winners and losers in this calendar proposal and there is definitely backlash to the decision.

Look, it was clear in the immediate aftermath of the DNCRBC vote to adopt the president's proposal that there was opposition to South Carolina being granted the first slot on the 2024 primary calendar. And it has become even clearer in the time since that detractors of the plan are going to use the period between that December 2 vote and the February DNC meeting -- the one that will vote on ratifying the plan -- to gin up if not opposition, then an alternative. But so far all the opposition has done is throw stuff at the wall with the hopes that something will stick. Nothing has. And that is mainly due to the fact that those who stand in opposition to the proposal have yet to grapple with the realities of this process. 

It is fine to throw states out there that are more diverse or more competitive (in a general election) than South Carolina is. The DNCRBC has conducted a process over the course of much of 2022 that already did that. It considered all the states that the Biden proposal included. But one additional factor the DNCRBC weighed that is completely lacking in the sturm and drang of complaints thus far was feasibility. As in, how feasible is it that any given state is actually able to move into a particular slot? 

Georgia and North Carolina? Nope.

Nevada? As described above, maybe.

And until detractors of the president's proposal wrestle with that reality, their complaints are never going to be taken seriously. 

There is a weak point to the president's proposal that many are missing. 

Another reason neither Georgia nor North Carolina are workable in the first position -- and The Hill piece speaks to this to some degree -- is how big and expensive each would be compared to past early states. Both parties still seem to value what the 2013 GOP autopsy called the on ramp to bigger states and multi-contest dates. Both parties continue to hold to notions of retail politics and the little guy having a chance to compete with those who have vast to near-unlimited resources.1 And both Georgia and North Carolina would break with that principle. 

But if anything was slapdash about the calendar proposal that emerged from the December 2 DNCRBC vote it was not South Carolina, but the early cluster that was created by a compromise.

The initial proposal from the Biden team was different than what was voted on by the panel:
Tuesday, February 6: South Carolina
Tuesday, February 13: Nevada/New Hampshire
Tuesday, February 20: Georgia
Tuesday, February 27: Michigan
But because the Nevada primary was already scheduled for February 6 and prospects for movement away from that position dim, the compromise was to move the South Carolina primary to Saturday, February 3 and shift everything else but Michigan up a week. 

But that turned a plan that called for three small-ish state contests in eight days to three small-ish state contests in a four day span. That may seem like a minuscule difference, but it has the effect of creating a cluster of contests that equate to something akin to the Georgia or North Carolina in the first spot. And this was raised as a concern among DNCRBC members in the period before the vote was taken. Both Carol Fowler (SC) and Scott Brennan (IA) brought up how this cluster of contests sandwiched into a small window to start the calendar may negatively impact how well the party adheres to the value of giving all candidates a chance. 

That is no small thing and no doubt would impact candidate strategy and how the calendar winnows candidates. If anything happens between now and when the DNC votes on the proposal passed by the DNCRBC it may be to tinker some with that cluster of contests.2 But it is more likely that South Carolina gets nudged a little earlier to account for the injurious impact the proposed cluster would have than being removed from the top slot altogether as detractors appear to want. 

That, and New Hampshire is likely to jump to the head of the queue anyway. But that is a story that will play out as 2023 progresses.

1 That may or may not be obsolete in an environment where invisible primary fundraising allows candidates to run practically everywhere even before Iowa and New Hampshire results have been factored into the equation. A small-time candidate would have an incredibly difficult game of catch-up to play if the plan is to initially rely on early wins -- either outright or relative to expectations -- to jumpstart a campaign. In other words, there has to be some measure of viability demonstrated before voting starts. [Incidentally, the Democrats' debate inclusion process in 2020 helped to repeatedly make that viability point as the invisible primary wound down.]

2 One of the near certainties is that neither Georgia nor New Hampshire will meet the January 5 conditions to actually be granted a waiver to even be in the pre-window. That would have the effect of clearing out the beginning of the calendar to some extent.


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