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Democratic Party officials discuss holding simultaneous Nevada, New Hampshire primaries

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
ElectionsGovernment
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National Democratic Party officials Friday debated the merits of allowing Nevada and New Hampshire to hold primaries on the same day, while others wondered if the party should give Black voters in the South a more prominent role as the party considers changes to the presidential primary calendar.

The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) 32-member Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) will choose up to five states to hold early primaries and determine the order beginning with the 2024 presidential cycle. Friday’s virtual meeting was the last before the RBC meets in August to render a decision. 

At the meeting, Mo Elleithee, a panel member representing the District of Columbia, argued that both Nevada and New Hampshire had made strong cases and he was intrigued by the idea of perhaps allowing them to go first together on the same day. 

“I specifically think Nevada and New Hampshire going on the same day as the first primary day could be really interesting and could send a very strong message to the country,” Elleithee said.

The Silver State also received praise from RBC members during the last meeting held on July 9.

Some, including RBC co-chair Jim Roosevelt of Massachusetts, raised concerns that the distance between Nevada and New Hampshire would make it difficult for candidates to campaign in both states on the same day. 

Elleithee stressed that he was not “100 percent” sold on the idea, but he added that campaigns have to make those calculations now with the existing Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina lineup.

“Not every candidate plays equally in every state, even in the current window,” Elleithee. “There are some who, for whatever strategic reason they deem is important to them, will go heavier in one state, will maybe leapfrog a state where they think they might be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Friday’s meeting comes after 16 states, including Nevada, and Puerto Rico made presentations to the committee last month. The Silver State has gone third behind Iowa and New Hampshire in recent primary cycles but is pushing to go first beginning in 2024. South Carolina has traditionally gone fourth, the last state in the DNC’s early window. 

The primary criteria the RBC is evaluating are diversity, competitiveness and feasibility of holding a contest. Nevada Democrats have argued that the state is uniquely aligned with those goals. 

The panel wants to pick early states that will best prepare the Democratic candidate for victory in the general election. They also want the first states to reflect the country's ethnic, racial and regional diversity.

During their presentation, Nevada Democratic officials argued that the Silver State uniquely checks those boxes, including being one of the most diverse states in the country. New Hampshire officials, meanwhile, boasted that the Granite State, seen as Nevada's biggest rival for the first slot, has held the first primary since 1916, that it is a swing state and that it is small enough where votes get up close and personal with candidates. 

But panel members — including Donna Brazile and Lee Saunders, both representing the District of Columbia, and Yvette Lewis of Maryland — argued that Southern states should get consideration for going first given that the party has a history of taking Black voters, who mostly live in the South, for granted.

“So I want to continue to look at how we make this relevant to that generation that voted, that we constantly ignore, that it's taking so long for them to get the fruits of their democracy and only to find out that here once again, they may not have an opportunity to shine,” Brazile said.

Panel member Dennis Speight of Texas said he would be worried about alienating Latinos in Nevada if paired with New Hampshire on the same day. He cited increased Latino voter margins for the GOP in the 2020 election.

“I worry about the signal that sends to the Hispanic voters of Nevada, especially given, at least in Texas, the movement of some Hispanic voters away from our party,” Speight said. “I don't want to send that kind of message. But there's also Pacific Islanders and Native Americans that are there in Nevada. They might feel slighted by sharing the date with New Hampshire.”

The panel also discussed the possibility of adding five states to the early window. Brazile argued it could be done by having two primaries a day on successive days followed by one on the following day as one possible combination. 

Elleithee said he’s currently of the opinion that four is best unless the panel does not approve a Midwestern state. Michigan and Minnesota are seen as the best chances for a slot. But Michigan would need to pass a bill through its GOP-controlled legislature to change its primary date. Minnesota would need an agreement with Republicans to change its date. 

Asked whether Roosevelt and Minyon Moore of the District of Columbia, the other panel co-chair, had winnowed the list of 17 applicants, Roosevelt said no.

But Roosevelt did say he has told states with weaker cases that they are longer shots than others.

“As we've circled back to some of the states, we've tried to be fairly candid with them…about whether, on the merits, they are among the strongest,” Roosevelt said. “And we do that and so that they can gauge how much effort they want to put in.”

“But we've not told any of them that they're out of the running because they're not,” Roosevelt continued.

Roosevelt also said that he and Moore have been collecting information from states so panel members can have it in one place as they deliberate. The RBC is scheduled to meet Aug. 5-6, when it will likely make its decisions on which states will hold early primaries and the order. The full DNC will take up the panel’s recommendations at its September meeting.

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