SC was picked to have first Democratic primary. How New Hampshire is making that difficult

Despite the Democratic National Committee officially kicking off its presidential nominating contests with South Carolina, New Hampshire Democrats have indicated they still plan to hold their own contest before the Palmetto State.

With President Joe Biden not expected to be on the Granite State ballot, it leads to the possibility of Democratic challengers Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Marianne Williamson garnering a victory or even a momentum-building narrow defeat in New Hampshire if the state’s Democrats pull off a difficult write-in campaign for the president. Either of them would be able to say they are a viable candidate, even though any delegates they are awarded from New Hampshire may not be counted at national convention time.

If either Kennedy or Williamson do well in New Hampshire, it forces Biden’s reelection campaign to work to ensure he performs well in South Carolina, a state that slingshotted the president to the 2020 nomination. And state Democrats and the Biden campaign both say they are preparing now to make that happen.

“We can expect a lively campaign here,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is serving as Biden’s campaign co-chair and whose endorsement is credited with helping the president win the 2020 nomination. “We don’t intend for anybody to come in here, whether their name is Marianne Williamson or Kennedy, and outshine Joe Biden. That just ain’t going to happen.”

Kennedy, the nephew of former president John F. Kennedy, has been complaining about how the new primary order is only meant to benefit Biden because it prioritizes states where he did well in 2020.

In 2020, Biden finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and second in Nevada, before winning South Carolina.

“Everyone knows the real reason the DNC made the change. The people of South Carolina didn’t ask for it. No, it is simply another undemocratic attempt to rig the primary process in favor of their anointed candidate, Joe Biden,” Kennedy said in a statement.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to a crowd at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. during a campaign stop
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to a crowd at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. during a campaign stop

When the Democratic Party decided to reevaluate its primary order, it invited 20 states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, to apply to be in the early window before Super Tuesday.

Ultimately, Democrats decided to upend their process that used to start with the Iowa caucus followed by the New Hampshire primary, now looking to make sure the primary electorate in the early voting states more accurately represented the demographically diverse Democratic Party voter base.

Black voters represent 60% of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina, while Iowa and New Hampshire have an overwhelmingly white electorate.

In February, the Democratic National Committee decided on a new early voting state order: South Carolina on Feb. 3, Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13, and Michigan on Feb. 27.

It’s an order that keeps three out of the original four states in the early window and has New Hampshire holding a primary directly after the first contest.

“For the first time, the backbone of the Democratic Party — Black voters — will be heard first at the ballot box in the 2024 presidential primary,” said Christale Spain, the chairwoman of the S.C. Democratic Party. “It is a long overdue change that strengthens our party, and makes sure the primary calendar is more reflective of the diversity of our country — and it should be something to celebrate. We are thrilled to be the state who will award President Biden and Vice President Harris with their first delegates next year.”

Last Thursday, the DNC’s Rules & Bylaws Committee voted to grant New Hampshire another extension — to Oct. 14 — to submit a proposal for its primary that complies with the national party’s new calendar. Democrats both on the committee and in New Hampshire, however, each expect the state, which has a law mandating it hold the first-in-the-nation primary, will continue to try to hold its primary before South Carolina, which would lead to DNC sanctions.

“It is abundantly clear that the DNC’s continued delay of a decision on whether they will count New Hampshire votes in the primary is a disenfranchisement of voters and a further display of disrespect for our democratic system,” said Carlos Cardona, Williamson’s campaign manager.

Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks to a crowd of voters during the 2nd annual South Carolina Sunday Dinner, hosted by the S.C. Black Caucus of the Democratic Party on Sun., March 26, 2023.
Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks to a crowd of voters during the 2nd annual South Carolina Sunday Dinner, hosted by the S.C. Black Caucus of the Democratic Party on Sun., March 26, 2023.

Republicans plan to start their nominating contests with the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15. A date for the New Hampshire primary has yet to be finalized, but Jan. 23 is being considered, a date Democrats in the state may have accept.

Recognizing the importance of South Carolina, Kennedy’s campaign has made moves in the state. He’s hired staff including a state director and volunteer director. He’s also opened offices in Charleston, Columbia and Orangeburg.

During a recent visit to South Carolina, Kennedy said he wasn’t being critical of the Palmetto State in the process. His ire was pointed at the DNC for changing the nominating contest order.

“I think on principle, it’s not a good way to run a primary to just take the primary states where you did well last time and only allow those people to vote,” Kennedy said in an interview with a One America News Network contributor. “I don’t think that is a really good exemplar for democracy.”

SC Democratic efforts to help Biden

Just because Biden won the 2020 South Carolina primary doesn’t mean Democrats assume he’ll win the state again in the 2024 process.

The state and local Democratic parties will help carry out efforts to ensure a Biden victory in the Palmetto State on Feb. 3.

“The two things that we’re really focused on in Richland County is messaging, amplifying the message that comes from the White House or the state party, and also the messaging that resonates with voters that we’ve talked to,” said Valerie Moore, the chairwoman of the Richland County Democratic Party. “When we talk to voters about the issues that affect them directly or what keeps them up at night, you’re trying to tie that into the Biden initiatives.”

Moore pointed to the $35 a month cap on insulin prices, the expanded child tax credit and the infrastructure bill passed during the Biden administration.

Moore said the county party will have an outreach operation with door knocking and mailers to encourage people to vote in the Feb. 3 Democratic contest.

“We’re going to have a full-on field operation,” Moore said. “One of the things we found in 2020 … is the presidential primary is a chance for Democrats to reach out to other Democrats. We hope that people will be inspired and not just call it in (and) hope that everybody else is doing their thing because a lot of people sat home in 2016 and that’s how we got in this mess.”

Joseph Bustos reported from Columbia, S.C. Alex Roarty reported from Washington, D.C.