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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New Democratic presidential primary calendar keeps Washington’s primary in March

Michelle Obama, wife of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, speaks Feb. 8, 2008 during a campaign stop at the Fox Theater in Spokane. Obama was in town to campaign prior to a presidential caucus on Feb. 9, 2008, which was won by Barack Obama on the way to clinching the White House. The state Democratic Party that year opted to ignore results from a presidential primary and select delegates only based on the caucus. Next year’s presidential primary in Washington is scheduled for March 12.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – President Joe Biden’s plan to change the Democratic presidential primary calendar could soon become a reality, but it likely won’t mean much for Washington.

The Democratic National Committee last week approved changes to the 2024 Democratic presidential primary calendar, switching which states get the first few primary dates. Under the new plan, South Carolina will hold the first primary on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6. Georgia would hold theirs next on Feb. 13, followed by Michigan on Feb. 27.

The proposal pushes Iowa, which for decades has been the first stop for Democrats, out of the first few spots, in an effort to better reflect the diversity of the party. Four of the five states are also considered battleground states.

Though the new calendar won’t affect Washington’s date, newly elected state Democratic Party Chair Shasti Conrad, the first woman of color to chair the state Democratic party, said she was proud of the changes made at a national level.

“That sends a really important message to folks that the Democratic Party recognizes the values of those voters,” she said.

Conrad said the state party did make a bid to the national committee for an earlier date, focusing on the large population of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander voters, tribal voters and rural voters, but that she was happy with where the state landed.

States other than those in the first five slots are free to choose their primaries as they see fit. State laws in Washington and Idaho sets their presidential primaries as the second Tuesday of March each year that there is a presidential election.

Both states’ Democratic and Republican primaries are set at March 12, though in Washington, there’s still time for that to change.

There are two ways to change the date in Washington, though the new date cannot be before any of the earliest dates allowed by any national party.

Secretary of State Steve Hobbs could propose an alternative date to coordinate with any Western states for a more regional primary approach. The secretary of state has until Sept. 1 to propose a new date, but secretary of state spokesman Derrick Nunnally said Hobbs has no plans to do so.

The second option to change the primary date in state law gives major political parties the option to change the date. The parties have until Sept. 15 to propose an alternative.

Under both options, a bipartisan committee must approve the new date by a two-thirds vote by Oct. 1. The committee must consist of the chairs and vice chairs of the state committee for each major political party, the secretary of state, the majority and minority leaders in the state Senate, and the state House speaker and minority leader.

The two-thirds requirement means both major political parties likely would have to agree on the proposed date.

Conrad said there isn’t a push now within the state party to move Washington’s date sooner.

This isn’t the first time the calendar has been changed and it certainly won’t be the last, said Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University. Almost every cycle there are changes as most individual states still have a say in when they can hold their primaries.

It’s unclear how much of an impact the new calendar will have in the long run. If Biden runs in 2024, the new calendar could be irrelevant with a favored incumbent on the ballot, and by 2028, the committee may make more changes.

“I don’t think you’ll see a dramatic effect in 2024,” Clayton said. “Down the road, you may see a big impact, especially as you see more people of color run for political office.”

The early primary states often have a disproportionate influence on deciding who moves on in the party’s primary because the candidates who finish toward the bottom in the first few states often drop out of the race early, Clayton said.

“I think the concern right now is to try to find states that are more representative of the nation generally,” Clayton said.

The calendar isn’t finalized as states still have their own rules and logistics to follow for setting up a primary. The Republican National Committee already has set its calendar, keeping Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada first, and states that change the order could lose delegates.

In a statement last week, chairwoman Ronna McDaniel criticized Democrats for breaking a “half-century precedent” and “abandoning millions of Americans in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.