WASHINGTON—While attendees of a conservative conference headlined by President Donald Trump arrived on one side of the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee gathered on the opposite wing on Sept. 14 and voted unanimously to give New Hampshire Democrats another month to provide a 2024 primary plan that complies with the party’s guidelines.
It marked the third time that the DNC gave an extension to New Hampshire in hopes that state Democrats abide by the national party’s new primary schedule.
Earlier this year, the committee voted to replace New Hampshire with South Carolina as the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Under the proposed plan, New Hampshire must hold its primary on the same day as Nevada on Feb. 6, or face possible sanctions.
South Carolina will conduct its primary on Feb. 3.
Georgia and Michigan would follow, according to the new schedule.
Iowa, which holds caucuses, was removed from the list of early-voting states.
In 2020, President Joe Biden lost in Iowa and New Hampshire to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders before winning South Carolina.
Citing South Carolina’s racial diversity compared to Iowa and New Hampshire, President Biden encouraged the DNC to change the primary schedule and place South Carolina in the leadoff spot.
The DNC approved the change in early 2023 at its winter meeting.
"This committee put together a calendar proposal that reflects our values and will strengthen our party,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said after the vote.
“This calendar does what is long overdue. It expands the number of voices in the early window. And it elevates diverse communities that are at the core of the Democratic Party.”
Oct. 14 is New Hampshire’s new deadline. The previous one was Sept. 1.
New Hampshire state laws stipulate that it be first in the nation, while Georgia state law mandates that it have Republican and Democrat primaries on the same day.
According to the DNC's rules, Georgia's GOP primary would take place on March 12, and its Democrat primary would be held on Feb. 13.
Iowa law requires that its caucuses take place before any other state.
State Republicans scheduled their caucuses on Jan. 15.
Democrats proposed a plan to have caucuses on the same day but only to conduct party business, and not to vote for president.
The presidential preference vote would be a separate process under the plan and be conducted by mail.
Iowa Democrats have not finalized the dates, so the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee on Sept. 14 voted to discuss the matter at its next meeting on Oct. 6.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is challenging President Biden for the party’s nomination, has accused the DNC for months of trying to rig the primaries in favor of President Biden, who has not shown a willingness to debate.
The vote to establish a new primary schedule and sanction states that don’t cooperate, demonstrates that “the DNC is in the process of disenfranchising voters in New Hampshire and Iowa,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Dennis Kucinich is a former Ohio congressman and Democrat presidential candidate who now serves as Mr. Kennedy’s campaign manager. He wrote that Mr. Kennedy’s campaign had requested a meeting with DNC officials regarding the delegate plans.
In a news release issued this week, Mr. Kucinich said that he believed that the DNC "has created a class of pledged delegates, called Party Leaders and Elected Officials, who are essentially the same as superdelegates, due to the amount of control the party exercises over elected officials."
"This puts the DNC, once again, in the position of overturning the will of voters across the United States. It is unclear how overturning the nation's majority vote could be interpreted as trusting the people," Mr. Kucinich explained.
“The DNC consults closely with Julie Chavez-Rodriguez, manager of Joe Biden's campaign. Given that and the DNC’s commitment to neutrality in the primary process, we anticipate that Mr. Harrison will agree to the meeting.”
Re-ordering the 2024 presidential primary schedule "would discount the votes of millions of Americans and limit the ballot access of millions more to mail-in voting only,” Mr. Kucinich added.
Ahead of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee’s Sept. 14 meeting, Mr. Kennedy released an open letter addressed to its officials.
In it, he wrote that: “The DNC and the Joe Biden campaign have essentially merged into one unit, financially and strategically, despite the promise of neutrality in its charter and bylaws.
"The DNC is not supposed to favor one candidate over another. It is supposed to oversee a fair, democratic selection process, and then support the candidate that its voters choose.”
Mr. Kennedy, who is the founder of Children’s Health Defense and an environmental attorney, referenced a case in which he participated to illustrate his point.
“Much has been said in recent years about our country’s endangered democracy. As someone who has spent decades battling corrupt corporate polluters, I can attest that endangered species are not saved by idle talk,” Mr. Kennedy wrote.
“We didn’t bring the Bald Eagle back to the Hudson River Valley by holding a press conference. We did it by cleaning up the pollution that threatened its survival and introducing new chicks to the wild.
“Our endangered democracy is no different. Its salvation lies in cleansing our society of the toxic divisions and corporate greed that pollute our political waters. Its salvation lies not in sound bites, but in the careful seeding and nurturing and protection of healthy examples of democracy in action,” Mr. Kennedy added.
Mr. Kennedy urged the DNC to “lead by example and hold the most transparent, equal, accessible, and accountable election that has ever been seen in this country. You have the power to do this. You have the power to restore the faith of the people—faith in the Democratic Party, and faith in democracy itself.”
Earlier this week, Mr. Kennedy traveled across New Hampshire on a town hall tour.
At Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett, a popular stop among presidential candidates from Republicans and Democrats, he told supporters that: “It’s troubling and ironic that the Democratic party, which was once on the forefront of voter rights, are now attempting to do this.”
“They’re punishing states that did not vote for President Biden the last time by basically disenfranchising voters, making it so that if you live in New Hampshire you cannot vote for anybody but President Biden this time around,” he noted.
New Hampshire Democrats have pointed out that the state legislature is controlled by Republicans who are unwilling to change the state law protecting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status.
If New Hampshire is found non-compliant, the state could lose half of its delegates to the August 2024 Democratic National Convention, where the party’s 2024 presidential candidate will be nominated.
An unsanctioned primary would likely keep President Biden off the ballot.
"We committed at the outset of this process to allow for every opportunity for states to honor the opportunity of hosting their nominating contests within the early window. We want to recommit to that principle and continue to work with the New Hampshire Democratic Party towards that goal," Rules and Bylaws Committee co-chair James Roosevelt said on Sept. 14.
If President Biden is not on the ballot, New Hampshire Democrats have said that they will organize a write-in campaign.
New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, a Republican, announced on Sept. 13 that the state's presidential primary filing period would begin on Oct. 11, which would lead to an event that will likely be held ahead of South Carolina in late January.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re going to be going ahead of South Carolina, which puts us into January,” Scanlan said at a Sept. 13 news conference in New Hampshire.
“It is more important for New Hampshire to have the early primary because it allows maximum participation from anybody that wants to put their name out there as a candidate,” Mr. Scanlan explained.
“If the president wins a majority of the vote through write-in and as a result of that is awarded delegates that get sent to the convention, is he really not going to let them in and what is that going to look like from a media perspective?
"I think the DNC will have some soul-searching to do if that’s going to be the penalty.”
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting was held at the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel, which has hosted presidential inaugural balls for decades.
While the DNC committee met in the East Promenade, attendees of the Pray, Vote Stand Summit were arriving in the West Promenade. President Donald Trump, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Vice President Mike Pence are among the scheduled speakers at the three-day event.
Outside the Omni Shoreham, a caravan organized by American Values 2024, the Super PAC supporting Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy, formed. The group plans to venture from Washington to South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, and other key primary states.
Mark Gorton is co-chairman of American Values 2024, a Super PAC working to get Mr. Kennedy elected president. Mr. Gorton stood in the Omni Shoreham lobby with supporters of Mr. Kennedy’s campaign as the DNC committee met in a nearby room.
“The deck is already stacked against outsiders. You saw what they did to Bernie Sanders. I mean, in an honest election, Bernie would be the president now. Not Joe Biden,” Mr. Gorton said.
“We all got a chance to watch what the DNC did to Bernie Sanders. He was clearly the most popular candidate in the Democratic primary in 2016 and 2020, and he was well on his way to victory, but the DNC played every game they could to sabotage his candidacy and rig the election,” he added.
Speculation has mounted that Mr. Kennedy could run as an independent.
At town hall stops in New Hampshire earlier this week, he noted that he would have to make a decision by mid-October, and running as an independent would require raising around $15 million to get on the ballot in all 50 states.
“We will support Robert F. Kennedy Jr. whether he runs as a Democrat, an independent, or another party. There is only one decent human being in the mix of Trump, Biden, and Kennedy, and that is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.” Mr. Gorton said.
“This is a movement, not just a campaign. He believes in what he’s fighting for, and his supporters share his vision.”
Jim Webb recently joined Mr. Kennedy’s campaign in a veteran relations role. The retired U.S. Marine fought in Iraq and has served as a military legislative assistant to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a writer for the Military Times.
His father, Jim Webb, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Webb attended the DNC committee’s Sept. 14 meeting.
“If the DNC decides to create roadblocks for Mr. Kennedy, it will only further embolden his campaign.
"The DNC is terrified of President Biden and Mr. Kennedy sharing a stage or sharing an event because, at that point in time, people will see there’s absolutely no comparison with how Mr. Kennedy articulates himself around the issues and provides reasonable fact-based positions that he can debate at length with his opponent.”
At the Sept. 14 meeting, the DNC also discussed Idaho, which has a Republican-controlled state legislature and voted to have caucuses in each of the 44 counties.
The committee decided to conditionally approve Idaho’s delegate plan, with “a caveat” that they eventually change to a traditional primary.
It also talked about ranked-choice voting and heard a presentation from Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows about Maine’s ranked-choice voting process.
“They’re trying to get rid of the caucus process altogether within the DNC. With ranked-choice voting, that would effectively zero out any conflict with the delegates since you would have one winner per state per primary instead of rewarding delegates from multiple areas within a state.
“You're eliminating a tremendous amount of people's opinions if you do that. It’s undemocratic,” Mr. Webb added.
Mr. Kennedy opened his first office in New Hampshire in August. During a meet and greet at an organic farm outside of Walpole earlier this week, he said that, in New Hampshire, presidential candidates are “vetted the same way city council and local officials are vetted.
“With the newer model in other states, there are ad campaigns that cost billions of dollars and maybe occasional highly scripted visits or rallies where people who participate are screened. It’s the kabuki theater of politics,” Mr. Kennedy said.
"In Iowa, you go to the farms and stock sales. In New Hampshire, you have to go to the barber shops, the nail salons, and the diners.
"You have to shake hands with people, and you have to answer difficult questions and then follow-up questions. You get to know people, and that is important.”