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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Democrats vote to boost Georgia in 2024 lineup despite obstacles

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger presents his budget for elections during joint appropriations hearings at the Georgia State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023, in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)  (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
By Greg Bluestein Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA – National Democrats voted Saturday to overhaul the presidential primary process and put Georgia near the start of the schedule. But the party’s plan to elevate Georgia won’t mean anything without support from state Republicans so far unwilling to endorse the change.

Members of the Democratic National Committee decided at the party’s meeting in Philadelphia to back a proposal that puts South Carolina at the top of the 2024 lineup, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan.

It’s part of Biden’s effort to upend the decades-old schedule to better reflect the party’s racial and geographic diversity – and minimize Iowa after disastrous caucuses three years ago.

The reconfiguring would have South Carolina hold its primary on Feb. 3, followed three days later by New Hampshire and Nevada, which is swapping the caucus it used to hold in favor of a primary. Georgia would vote fourth on Feb. 13, followed by Michigan on Feb. 27, with much of the rest of the nation set to vote on Super Tuesday in early March.

The overhaul also favors states that supported the president in 2020: His primary victory in South Carolina helped rescue his sagging campaign, and his narrow win over Donald Trump in Georgia made him the first Democratic nominee to capture the state since 1992.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, the chair of the state Democratic Party, told members of the DNC that U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s runoff victory in December was another reminder that “Georgia will continue shape the trajectory of our country for years to come.”

“For too long, our party’s nominating calendar has not reflected what this country actually looks like. Our country is diverse – in race, geography, background, and thought. And so is our party. And, y’all, Georgia reflects that,” she said. “After today, we can proudly say that we’ve sought to elevate the voices that have far too long been sidelined.”

Atlanta is also a finalist to host the Democratic National Convention next year, and many of the South’s most influential leaders have united behind the city’s bid.

While the DNC’s vote locks in the primary schedule in some other states, Democrats in Georgia still face significant obstacles. They’ve won an extension until June to try to salvage the state’s part in the scheduling shuffle.

Georgia law gives Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, the authority to set the election calendar. While he hasn’t rejected the shift, he’s laid out conditions that may prove impossible to meet.

Republicans have already set their own lineup that keeps Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada at the top of the schedule. The Republican National Committee’s rules stipulate that states that buck the order will lose delegates.

Raffensperger’s office has said he won’t hold two separate primaries or set a schedule that jeopardizes delegates.

“We’ve been clear: This needs to be equitable so that no one loses a single delegate and needs to take place on the same day to save taxpayer funds,” Jordan Fuchs, Raffensperger’s top deputy, said earlier this year.

The plan was dealt another setback when Gov. Brian Kemp’s Republican administration abruptly announced a few weeks ago that he won’t back the switch.

While his approval isn’t necessary, Democrats hoped Kemp would be tempted to support the plan because it would bring new attention and investment in Georgia – and give state Republicans more influence in shaping the wide-open GOP race in 2024.

Instead, state Democrats remain without a powerful GOP advocate to make the case to the RNC to let Georgia jump the schedule – a must to earn Raffensperger’s blessing.

Many Georgia voters are receptive to the overhaul. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released last week showed 42% of Georgia voters support adding the state near the start of the 2024 lineup. Another 40% oppose the idea and 17% don’t know.

The scheduling revamp could prove to be fleeting even if Georgia wins the earlier slot. Biden wants the DNC to reconsider the lineup every four years, and the party has promised to review the calendar before the 2028 vote.

Still, Democratic leaders argue it’s time to reward states like Georgia where Black voters form the backbone of the party.

“We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar,” Biden wrote to the DNC rules committee in December. “It is time to stop taking these voters for granted.”

In her address to DNC members, Williams struck a similar theme. She noted that DNC member Alaina Reeves stood alongside Biden during his Friday speech wearing a shirt that read: “Atlanta Influences Everything.”

“Georgia indeed influences everything – from the civil rights movement to the political landscape of today. And we will continue for years to come,” Williams said. “We know the true North of the Democratic Party is in the Deep South – Georgia.”