President Joe Biden speaks at a Democratic National Committee rally on November 10, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

President Joe Biden speaks at a Democratic National Committee rally on November 10, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Biden, DNC Urged to Make Diverse Swing State--Not South Carolina--First Primary Contest

"Our first priority must be to select states early in the process that help produce the strongest Democratic nominee consistent with our working-class values and agenda," says a new petition from More Perfect Union.

Progressive criticism of President Joe Biden's move to make South Carolina the first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential primary was given a boost Wednesday when More Perfect Union launched a petition imploring the Democratic National Committee to pick a diverse swing state instead.

"If we really want to pick a diverse primary electorate, look to South Carolina's neighbor to the north--an actual battleground state."

Biden's proposal to raise South Carolina to the first spot on the party's presidential primary calendar was approved by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee last Friday but is still months away from receiving a green light from the entire panel. If Biden's plan is rubber-stamped by the full DNC, voters in New Hampshire--currently home to the nation's first primary contest following the Iowa caucuses--would be second in line, casting ballots on the same day as their counterparts in Nevada.

In its petition, More Perfect Union applauded other changes sought by Biden, including his proposed elevation of Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan--three general election battleground states that were among the 10 closest races in his 2020 victory over then-President Donald Trump.

The biggest flaw in the president's plan is that he "chose South Carolina to go first and ahead of all those battleground states," said the progressive media outlet. "Biden's proposal to elevate South Carolina to the front gives it incredible power to shape the race."

Doing so would be problematic, More Perfect Union contended, because:

South Carolina is not a battleground state: Donald Trump carried it by double digits in 2020. It is way more ideologically and culturally conservative than the Democratic Party and the rest of the nation. It's also one of the fiercest anti-union, anti-labor states in the country. In fact, South Carolina is already first in the nation with the terrible distinction of being the lowest-density union state in America.

If Democrats are serious about winning the working-class vote, South Carolina isn't the state to get it done.

While Biden has portrayed his preferred reshuffling of the Democratic Party's presidential primary calendar as an attempt to foreground voters of color, the progressive advocacy group RootsAction recently characterized the president's move as "an inappropriate, self-serving intervention dressed up in noble rhetoric."

Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign manager Jeff Weaver, meanwhile, warned Thursday in The Nation that "the schedule put forward by the White House empirically and dramatically diminishes the influence of Latinos on the Democratic presidential nominating process."

"In doing so, this proposed gerrymander will give Republicans more fodder for convincing Latino voters that the Democratic Party is not a home for them," Weaver argued. "Given the erosion of Democratic Party support among the fastest-growing segment of the American population, that's a problem."

Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign manager and current adviser Faiz Shakir--the founder of More Perfect Union and a DNC delegate--has vowed to reject Biden's effort to promote South Carolina, which he sees as a transparent attempt by the White House to reward Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) for his influential endorsement in the last presidential contest.

While Shakir agrees that Iowa should no longer go first, he argued in a New York Timesopinion piece published Monday that pushing South Carolina, a GOP stronghold, to the front of the line "would be comical if it weren't tragic."

"We all know why South Carolina got the nod," wrote Shakir. "President Biden, Rep. Jim Clyburn, and many of his top supporters were buoyed by their campaign's comeback in February 2020 when the state delivered Mr. Biden his first victory of the season--and a big one at that."

"The media attention from that victory, and the consolidation of the Democratic field that it yielded, helped catapult him to winning a majority of the following Super Tuesday states," Shakir continued. "And when Covid spread through the nation shortly after, the rest of the primary contests were effectively quarantined, and Mr. Biden iced his victory. None of that story is a reason to put South Carolina first, however."

Soon after the piece was published, DNC Chair Jamie Harrison appeared to baselessly accuse Shakir of disrespecting Black voters. In an ensuing interview with Politico, Shakir said that "it's a very insulting approach to suggest that somehow we don't care about Black voters because we think South Carolina shouldn't go first."

In his essay, Shakir wrote that "if we really want to pick a diverse primary electorate, look to South Carolina's neighbor to the north--an actual battleground state."

More Perfect Union's petition also advocates for prioritizing racially diverse swing states: "As one of the strongest voting blocks in the Democratic coalition, it is essential Black voters get their say early and often throughout the nominating process. Yet Georgia has significantly more Black voters than South Carolina. So do Florida and North Carolina, two more battleground states. In fact, 14 states have larger Black populations than South Carolina."

"Our first priority must be to select states early in the process that help produce the strongest Democratic nominee consistent with our working-class values and agenda," says the petition. "South Carolina isn't even trending in any way toward the Democratic Party."

"Just two years ago, Jaime Harrison--now the chair of the Democratic National Committee--spent the eye-popping sum of $130 million to try to defeat [Republican] Sen. Lindsey Graham. After out-raising and outspending Mr. Graham, Mr. Harrison still lost the 2020 Senate race decisively," the petition adds. "Let's not compel all other Democratic campaigns to waste more money that could be better spent building coalitions in states Democrats need to win."

Adolph Reed Jr., professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and an organizer with the Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute's Medicare for All campaign in South Carolina, told Common Dreams that the notion that the South Carolina primary serves as corporate Democrats' so-called "firewall" has "only worked that way because Democratic elites have interpreted it that way when it's been in their interest to do so and because the news media have colluded with them in that view."

"It's just as important to note that South Carolina is a state no Democrat is going to win in November," said Reed, "and that Black voters in South Carolina are not identical to Black voters in Michigan, Illinois, or New York, that there's no such thing as 'the Black vote,' and that South Carolina Black voters' inclinations are shaped significantly by political dynamics within the state as are those of those voters in other states."

Shakir, for his part, called it a "special honor" to go first. "The state chosen for the task is rewarded in myriad ways. Iowa's economy has benefited greatly over the years from the high level of campaign spending and travel. Aware of the process' economic power, many of our Democratic campaigns employed union-friendly hotels, restaurants, and vendors when we were active in Iowa. Good luck finding that in South Carolina."

As RootsAction's Don't Run Joe campaign--an effort to dissuade the incumbent from seeking reelection in 2024--noted last week in a statement:

Biden received a mere 8% of the vote in the 2020 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, finishing fifth. Now he wants to dislodge New Hampshire from its long-standing first-in-the-nation primary role. On the other hand, Biden was the big winner of the South Carolina primary in 2020. Now he wants that state to go first.
Biden's decision to intrude into the Democratic National Committee's painstaking process for setting the 2024 presidential primary schedule appears to be a sign of anxiety in the White House about potential obstacles to his winning renomination. The president has indicated repeatedly that he plans to run again, so how ethical would it be for the DNC to allow a contestant to determine key rules of the game before the race begins?
South Carolina is a state that Biden obviously sees as vital to a renomination bid, but--unlike all other states under consideration for early primaries--it is not a battleground state. Everyone knows that the Democratic ticket will not win the deep-red state of South Carolina in 2024. Georgia, on the other hand, is one of the most important battleground states, and is more racially diverse than South Carolina. If Biden's proposal to supplant the New Hampshire primary as first-in-the-nation were truly about diversity and not about improving his own prospects for renomination, he would be promoting a state other than South Carolina to be first.

The group called on Biden to stop trying "to manipulate the Democratic primary schedule for his own narrow political purposes."

That message is echoed in More Perfect Union's petition, which tells Biden and the DNC: "Don't make South Carolina the first state to vote in the 2024 Democratic primary. Make diverse, battleground states that Democrats need to win in the general election, like Georgia, Nevada, and Michigan, first instead."

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