WASHINGTON – Democrats considering shaking up the order of their 2024 presidential primary are waiting on President Joe Biden, anxious to see if he'll endorse stripping Iowa of its traditional leadoff spot or discourage major changes while mulling his own potential reelection bid.
But Biden seems to be showing little urgency in addressing the primary calendar, allies say. The president previously avoided moves that could upset any state ahead of November’s critical midterm elections. And he continues to do much of the same even now, as his team quietly moves to lay the groundwork for a 2024 run.
The clock is nonetheless ticking because the Democratic National Committee’s rulemaking arm is meeting Friday to begin deciding which states should be the first four to vote, while considering adding a fifth slot. The lack of a clear signal from the White House has left rules committee members in a holding pattern.
“We do have a leader of our party, and that is President Biden. So we know that there will be a way in from the White House,” said Artie Blanco of Nevada, a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. She added, “Our goal is to have the best calendar that gives our president — when he’s running again — what it looks like for us and for future candidates.”
Still, the primary calendar showdown may be coming before the 80-year-old Biden is ready to fully discuss reelection. The president says he “intends” to run again but plans to talk it over with his family over the holidays before revealing his decision early next year.
Biden spent Thanksgiving on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket and will see more relatives over Christmas, meaning he may not have deep discussions until then. White House aides and Biden allies have begun staffing and structural discussions for his likely 2024 run to ensure the campaign would have all that it needs to be successful, but they have avoided taking any overt steps while the president weighs a final decision.
Then-President Barack Obama didn’t officially launch his reelection effort until April 2011, some six months after the 2010 midterms, and Biden allies are eyeing a similar time frame should he decide to go forward. That, in part, is because the first quarter after a midterm election is historically a weak fundraising period.
Still, Biden's predecessor, former President Donald Trump, has already announced his third campaign for the White House. He did so just a week after a midterm election that didn’t feature major Republicans gains that many had predicted — with the party winning only narrow control of the House and failing to recapture the Senate despite sky-high inflation rates and Biden’s low approval ratings.
The Democratic rules committee had been expected to decide the primary order in August but put off doing so until after the midterm elections. No matter what the group ultimately does, its decision will still have to be approved by the full DNC, which will likely come next year — though that vote will likely follow the committee’s recommendation.
Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell has led the effort to get her state in the top five and suggested the DNC committee might not make a final recommendation this week. But she also said too much work had already been done for a decision to drag out indefinitely.
“They’re being very, very careful,” Dingell said. “They’re doing their homework.”
If Biden runs again, the DNC’s decision will be largely moot for 2024 since the party will have little appetite for encouraging a major challenge to a sitting Democratic president. Still, its move could have implications for the presidential race in 2028 and beyond.
Iowa's caucus has kicked off presidential primary voting since 1976, but technical glitches sparked a meltdown in Democratic 2020 results that kept The Associated Press from declaring a winner. Many party leaders have also long called for beginning the presidential nominating process in a state that is less white, reflecting Democrats' deeply diverse electorate.
Vying to replace Iowa are New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary but follows Iowa’s caucuses, and Nevada, a heavily Hispanic state that had held a caucus but now plans to stage a primary and is looking to jump ahead from third place.
South Carolina, with its large bloc of Black Democrats, could move from fourth to third, freeing up a large Midwestern state to go next. Michigan and Minnesota are making major cases that were only strengthened by Democrats winning full control of both states' legislatures in the midterms. The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed a bill moving the state’s primary to the second Tuesday of February, and the proposal should soon clear the state House with bipartisan support.
If the DNC committee adds a fifth early slot, that could go to Iowa to soften the blow of no longer going first.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democrats and a rules committee member, said his state sports strong union membership and the country’s highest voter turnout, including among communities of color.
“It not enough to just be diverse on paper. We turn out diverse communities," Martin said.
Nevada, which has spent months arguing that simply standing on tradition isn't enough, now says that Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s narrow reelection — it was instrumental in her party clinching control of the Senate even with a runoff election still to come in Georgia — proves that it should go first. Still, Republican Joe Lombardo defeated incumbent Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the same midterm election.
“We are THE battleground state,” Blanco said.
Representatives from Iowa and New Hampshire say that small states let all candidates — not just well-funded ones — connect personally with voters and that losing their slots could advantage Republicans in congressional races. While New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan was reelected in the midterms, so was the state's Republican governor, Chris Sununu.
The midterms didn’t go as well for Democrats in Iowa, where Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley won another term and the GOP swept all four House seats. Republicans have already decided to keep Iowa starting their 2024 presidential nominating cycle.
New Hampshire Democratic National Committeeman Bill Shaheen championed his state producing speedy midterm results, saying that “by 11 p.m., we knew who won the major races.”
“We’ve got it down," Shaheen said, "and we give everyone a chance.”
New Hampshire has also threatened to simply disregard DNC decisions and move to go first on its own — and the state has taken such action before. When the DNC approved remaking the primary calendar ahead of the 2008 election, it called for Nevada’s caucus after Iowa and before New Hampshire, only to see New Hampshire move up its primary.
In the past, other states that tried to violate Democratic Party rules and jump closer to the front were threatened with having their delegates not count toward their chosen candidate clinching the party’s nomination, but Shaheen said his state would take its chances.
“If you take it away from New Hampshire, New Hampshire might just do it anyway," Shaheen said. “We’d forfeit our delegates, but we don’t care.”
This story corrects the spelling of Sen. Maggie Hassan's last name.
Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the senator’s surname is Hassan, not Hassen.