The White House, CC BY 3.0 US , via Wikimedia Commons

President Joe Biden has thrown the South Carolina Democratic Party a long, huge lifeline by pushing national Democrats to move the first 2024 presidential primary here. Gone as the first national battleground would be the lily-white caucus in Iowa, while the lily-white New Hampshire primary faces a demotion but will still be early.

South Carolina is a state in which no Democrats won a statewide office in 2022. And after Republicans slammed through an overtly partisan redistricting map, Democrats in November lost seven seats in a S.C. House of Representatives already dominated by Republicans. So Biden’s move should help state Democrats get their act together and remain, well, somewhat relevant.

And that — despite the Republican gerrymandering — should make politics a little more competitive from Greenville to Beaufort to Charleston to Florence. More competition in political contests is what we need, not less. For that reason alone, Biden’s push is welcome.

But making South Carolina become the nation’s first primary also has benefits for the president, should he choose to run for re-election. (Other than pundits who are obsessed about what Biden will do, there’s nothing really to indicate that he won’t run.) 

First, remember that the only reason Biden won the Democratic nomination in 2020 was his victory in South Carolina, backed by kingmaker and our own U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, turned around a flagging campaign. Having South Carolina first in 2024 would propel him out of the gate quickly in a state he often says feels like a second home.

Second, having a primary in familiar South Carolina should discourage potential Democratic challengers as Biden will already have many of the political operatives loyal to Clyburn or Jaime Harrison, the Orangeburg native who coincidentally happens to chair the Democratic National Committee, in his corner.

Clyburn told NPR on Saturday that South Carolina was a laboratory for political primaries, particularly for Democrats.

“When people do well in a state like South Carolina, where you have such a diverse makeup of people, have a high percentage of African American voters but not an overwhelming percentage — we are around 27% African American — but it’s about reflective of the percentage of African Americans that vote for Democrats.”

South Carolina has been pivotal for Republicans, too, Clyburn noted. “McCain was doing great in his campaign for president until he got to South Carolina. George W. Bush beat him in South Carolina, went on to become a two-term president. So there’s something about the makeup of that state.”

If South Carolina makes the final cut as the first primary state, the state party will benefit from having an influx of new political professionals working in the state. Some of those who become familiar with the Palmetto State will stay and, we hope, work inside the party to expand its reach and make Democrats more competitive in future elections. 

The DNC will vote in February to finalize the primary order, hopefully with South Carolina at the top of the list. Let’s encourage the members to do just that.


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