'Anything could happen': Dems make their pitches for the first primary of 2024

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New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan made an impassioned pitch to Democratic National Committee members Wednesday about keeping her state as the first primary in the presidential nominating calendar.

Long before her official presentation, Hassan also buttonholed the most influential Democrat on the issue: The senator made the same pitch directly to President Joe Biden — that New Hampshire’s small size and civically engaged voters make sure “the people get to choose their nominee,” as Hassan said during her presentation to the DNC — when he visited Portsmouth, N.H., for an infrastructure event with her in April.

The episode, recounted by a person familiar with the conversation, illustrates how the private lobbying for the 2024 primary order is heating up alongside this week’s public campaigning. The DNC’s rules committee listened to presentations from 17 states during a three-day meeting — South Carolina will present on Friday — while its members consider how to reorder the early states to better reflect the party’s racial diversity and eliminate caucuses.

The pitches clarified the dynamics at play as the rules committee prepares a final recommendation for the set of early states in August, ahead of a full DNC vote in September. Iowa and New Hampshire were on defense, while Nevada is looking to leapfrog into the number one slot in the calendar. Michigan and Minnesota are duking it out to take over the Midwestern slot. Georgia and Texas Democrats argued that early investment from presidential campaigns would supercharge their ability to stay — or become — battleground states.

But there are still numerous outstanding questions for the committee, including not only the ultimate order but whether DNC members will add a fifth state to the early-state window.

“I don’t know how they meet the diversity requirements they’ve set out without expanding the number of states to five,” said Tina Podlodowski, the chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, who pitched her state as best representing the Asian American and Pacific Islander and labor communities. “I think everything is up in the air. Anything could happen.”

A range of high-profile officials showed up in Washington to promote their home states. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy promised DNC members that his state “will not let you down.” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Delaware Gov. John Carney each pushed for Biden’s home state to join the early window, with Carney adding that “just to show how important this is, I left a meeting with the president in the Roosevelt Room in order to be here on time.” Illinois brought Garrett’s popcorn — and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Minnesota’s delegation entered to walk-up music from Prince and then handed out pamphlets that included Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) hot dish recipe. New Hampshire distributed goodie bags including a mug from the famed Red Arrow diner and chocolate in the shape of the state, while Michigan’s handouts included a personal note from Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Debbie Dingell and Michigan-shaped gummies.

The DNC members had a regular pattern of questions they raised to state party leaders, focused on who within each state administered elections and how feasible it was for to change the states’ primary dates.

That’s a key question for Michigan and Minnesota, where Democrats would need at least some cooperation from Republicans to change their primary date. Stabenow, Dingell and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist each assured the committee that the “conversations that need to happen have begun,” as Gilchrist said.

“We feel good about the conversations we’re having, we’re just not ready to out them,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes told the DNC rules committee.

Two former Republican Party chairs have publicly said they support Democratic efforts to move up Michigan, though the current Michigan GOP chair, Ron Weiser, hasn’t weighed in one way or the other yet, deferring to his focus on the midterms. But for Michigan to change its date, they’ll need to move a bill through the Republican-controlled legislature.

DNC member Frank Leone told the delegation that “the more assurances you can give us, the better.”

Minnesota, meanwhile, doesn’t require legislative action to change the date, just an agreement between the two major party chairs. Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann has said he’s open to conversations with Democrats. “We’ve just had a general discussion where they’ve told us they’re interested in pursuing that within their party, and so we’re kind of taking a wait and see until they get through that,” he told Minnesota Public Radio.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who ran for president in 2012, tweeted his support for the state moving into the early window.

“We don’t need a law changed, we need a conversation, which is in [the GOP’s] interest,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in an interview after Minnesota’s presentation.

But while both Michigan and Minnesota made “compelling” arguments to the DNC rules committee, one member, who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations, said that others in the group may be reluctant to vote for either of the states without “absolute certainty” that they will be able to move their primary dates.

Iowa also made its final plea to keep its first-in-the-nation status, laying out a plan to make extensive changes to its caucuses, turning the exercise into an all-mail process, with voters sending in their presidential preference cards rather than showing up in person. Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn promised: “No more caucus math,” drawing laughter from the group.

Iowa Democrats also warned that taking away their early-state status will give Republicans even more of an advantage in the state, once a hotly contested battleground that slid off the national map in recent years. Iowa state House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst warned that “every time a Republican candidate comes to Iowa and visits the district of one of my members or one of my candidates, they’re building an organization on the other side.”

The Republican National Committee voted earlier this year to affirm the current lineup of four early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. If a state tries to jump the line, the RNC would sanction those states by removing some delegates. The DNC rules committee has not yet had a broad public discussion about what it would take to unlink the two parties’ presidential calendars.

Another impending showdown comes out of the race to be first in the lineup. Nevada made an aggressive push to not only stay in the early window but to jump into first place. “The state that goes first matters. We all know it does,” said Rebecca Lambe, the Democratic strategist and longtime adviser to the late Sen. Harry Reid.

“It fundamentally shapes the start of the primary and how the candidates spend their time and resources in the off-year,” Lambe continued, “and that’s why we believe it’s so important for the first state to look like America.”

Nevada touted its broad racial diversity — an implicit shot at New Hampshire, which is 90 percent white. The lack of racial diversity in both Iowa and New Hampshire is a major reason why the DNC decided to reimagine the early state calendar.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, defended its position, noting that it has fast-growing communities of color and its “white population has declined by 2 percent” over the last decade, New Hampshire DNC member Joanne Dowdell said during the state’s presentation.

The New Hampshire presenters also emphasized their state’s small size and legendary retail politics, where voters go to see “every presidential candidate who’s running before they make a decision,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Any candidate can take off, regardless of their financial power or standing in other states, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said.

“You get a fair shot in New Hampshire,” he added.

But at least one DNC member said they were “disappointed” that New Hampshire “didn’t have a clear reason why they had to be first, other than, ‘it’s in our constitution.’”

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