December 6, 2022 - 6:00pm

On Friday, The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws committee voted to shred the party’s presidential primary calendar. This may sound like a mere technicality, but it’s a move that could very well determine who the party’s next presidential nominee will be. 

Going all the way back to 1972, Iowa has held the coveted first-in-the-nation nominating contest. And since 2008, Iowa has been followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Under the new system, which will be going to the full DNC for ratification early next year, the first state to vote will be South Carolina on 3rd February, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on 6th February, Georgia on 13th February, and Michigan on 27th February.

Such a shuffling of the calendar became inevitable after 2020. That year, the Iowa caucuses were a complete disaster: an untested and glitchy smartphone app that the party was using to report results didn’t work as expected, and no results were announced on election night. That debacle, plus the fact that the populations of Iowa and New Hampshire are both over 80% white, led Democratic leaders and activists to question the wisdom of having those states vote first. For a party that bills itself as a multiracial coalition and is increasingly concerned with race and identity, this wouldn’t do. For that reason, the party is moving to put South Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan — states that have much larger black populations — first, third, and fifth. 

In addition to giving minority voters a louder voice, the new calendar will impact the party’s future nominating contest in two particularly important ways.

First, it will impede insurgent candidates and help those with national profiles or personal wealth. Historically, having two small states — Iowa and New Hampshire — at the start of the calendar has given underdog candidates the chance to make up for their lack of name recognition and fundraising with what’s known as retail politics — holding rallies, meeting voters, door-knocking, and get-out-the-vote operations. Candidates without national profiles could use Iowa as a springboard to earn national media attention and fundraising capacity. Without Iowa at the start of the calendar, it’s unlikely that Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter would ever have become the Democratic nominee.

But South Carolina, which is slated to replace Iowa, is much larger. As such, the potential that once existed for lesser-known candidates to win the first contest through retail politics is essentially gone. Now, the most important aspect of winning the first state will be name recognition and advertising capacity. This is great news for candidates like Vice-President Kamala Harris or billionaire Michael Bloomberg and bad for Democrats without a national profile or money to burn.

Second, the calendar will help moderate candidates and hurt progressives. Within the Democratic coalition, minority voters are much more pragmatic and establishment-friendly than white voters. (This can be confusing because, among all voters, white people lean Republican. But among Democrats, white voters are the most progressive.) This is why, in 2020, South Carolina, with its large black population, was the state that put a stop to Bernie Sanders’ campaign and boosted Joe Biden’s. And so the fact that Iowa has been replaced by South Carolina, and that Georgia and Michigan have been added to the early voting window, will benefit candidates who can appeal to more moderate black voters.

It seems likely that the full DNC will approve the calendar change in February. With little room for recourse, it will be a blow to progressive insurgents who lack personal wealth or a national profile. But — and if Joe Biden chooses not to run — 2024 could well shape up to be the year for the rich and famous.

Seth Moskowitz is an editor at Persuasion. He blogs at Brain Candy and tweets at @skmoskowitz.