South Carolina Democrats will apply to keep First-in-the-South status under new DNC rules

South Carolina’s First-in-the-South primary may not be first the next time Democrats select a...
South Carolina’s First-in-the-South primary may not be first the next time Democrats select a presidential nominee.(Mary Green)
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 6:57 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 7:00 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s First-in-the-South primary may not be first the next time Democrats select a presidential nominee.

The Democratic National Committee is shaking up its nomination process to allow any state to make the case they should be one of the first to hold a primary or caucus.

In previous years, the four traditional early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — have all held waivers to allow them to choose the Democratic presidential nominee before every other state.

But under a new plan adopted by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee on Wednesday, any state that wants to go first could apply to do so.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Trav Robertson said Thursday the state party will be seeking to keep its First-in-the-South slot.

“I think there will be a lot of competition to get one of those spots,” he said. “South Carolina is going to make a very good case that we should remain where we are, if not a little ahead.”

Under the new plan, the DNC will select early states based on three criteria: diversity, competitiveness, and feasibility.

Any state that wants to go before everyone else will have to argue its case to the DNC, and up to five could be chosen by mid-July.

“Our hope is that they’ll see how amazing South Carolina is and has been and how important we’ve been to the nominating process up to this point in selecting presidents of the United States,” Robertson said.

Every four years, South Carolina’s First-in-the-South primaries capture national attention and give the state’s voters a prominent role in selecting their party’s next presidential nominee, an outsized voice they might not have during the general election in such a reliably red state.

The primaries also bring in a lot of money.

“These people coming in and renting cars, hiring staff, working in building and renting buildings, going to restaurants — it’s vitally important to South Carolina’s economy,” Robertson said. “You’re talking anywhere from an additional $50 million to half-a-billion dollars to the local economies in our state.”

States that are not picked would have to wait until early March to hold their Democratic primaries.

“If you go later in the process, when a lot of people have dropped out, it’s a two-person race and it doesn’t seem to make that much difference, or they already know who the nominee’s going to be, then those nominations, those primaries or caucuses, don’t have as much impact,” University of South Carolina Political Science Professor Bob Oldendick said.

Swing states in the Midwest in particular could make a compelling argument to be added to the early calendar, Oldendick said.

The shakeup comes after some Democrats called for change to the calendar following the 2020 first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, marred by late results, confusion, and doubt, with critics saying the caucus structure is inaccessible to many as well.

“I think there’s going to be a big shift. I think over the last several election cycles, and particularly with the problems in 2020, people have been very dissatisfied,” he said.

Robertson argues South Carolina is “economically beneficial” for campaigns, with affordability of media markets and ease of travel from one side of the state to the other.

He said Democrats must be careful to ensure a presidential nomination is not limited to only those candidates who have enough wealth to afford an expensive campaign or that the eventual nominee does not run out of money by the time they begin campaigning for the general election.

When Democrats will hold their next presidential nominating contest will heavily depend on if President Joe Biden seeks re-election in 2024, as some state parties opt to not hold primaries or caucuses if an incumbent president from their party is up for re-election.

Republicans, however, will hold nominating contests in two years.

“When it comes to the presidential nomination process, keeping the SCGOP’s First in the South status is our top priority, and we’ve been able to work with other states to maintain the current schedule,” South Carolina Republican Party Chair Drew McKissick said in a statement. “It allows our voters to get a better look and have more access to presidential candidates than the rest of the country. With the way Democrats are plunging in the polls, you would think the presidential primary timeline would be the least of their problems right now.”

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