(CN) — As the Democratic primary season kicked off in Las Vegas in November 2019, the candidates arrayed themselves on stage, all dreaming of earning the chance to knock Donald Trump out of the White House.
While Joe Biden earned that chance and made good on it, another trend began that night when Harry Reid told a phalanx of reporters that Nevada, not Iowa, should be the first stop on the primary circuit.
“Iowa is not representative of our country,” Reid said of the state that has historically been the first stop. “It is 90% white and New Hampshire is less diverse. Nevada is a diverse state.”
On Friday, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak made Reid’s dream a reality, at least for the time being, when he signed a law that would make the Silver State the first primary stop in 2024, bumping both Iowa and New Hampshire from their respective perches.
Sisolak said Nevada should be rewarded for its effort to expand the franchise, unlike some GOP-controlled states like Iowa that have set about instituting new voting restriction laws in the wake of Trump’s unfounded claims that fraud cost him an election he lost by more than 7 million votes.
“Today, in the great state of Nevada we are sending a strong message that the Silver State is not only bucking the national trend of infringing on voting rights, but rather we are doing everything we can to expand access to the polls,” he said.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said the state would fight Nevada’s maneuvering and look to preserve its historic status.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to maintain it and I have confidence that we will,” Reynolds said on Thursday, in anticipation of Sisolak’s signing the bill into law. Reynolds said there is bipartisan support to retain their position for the primary season.
Reynolds did sign a law in March that shortened early voting and the polling hours during Election Day, saying those moves were necessary to preserve voting integrity.
New Hampshire will also likely contest the move. The national parties will have to approve of the move, and early indications are that Republicans are in favor of keeping the historical precedent in place.
“As the GOP leaders of the four carve-out states, we want to make clear that we stand together in protecting the presidential nominating schedule as it has existed for many years,” said Republican Party leaders from Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. “Our alliance is strong and we will continue to work together to preserve this historic process.”
South Carolina has also been floated as an Iowa replacement given the diversity of its electorate.
The calculus is different for both parties. The Democratic Party at present represents a more racially diverse coalition, meaning states such as New Hampshire and Iowa do not represent a bellwether for the party as in the past.
For instance, in 2020 Biden was trounced in both Iowa and New Hampshire, with some political pundits declaring his bid for the White House dead on arrival. But he finished second in Nevada, establishing momentum into South Carolina, where he emerged victorious and started racking up delegates all across the country on his path to the White House.
“Nevada represents a diverse constituency that presidential candidates need to talk to,” Jason Frierson, the Nevada speaker of the house, told the Associated Press Friday. “It is for candidates to vet their issues and communicate with the kind of communities that they’re going to be asking to vote for them in the national presidential election.”
Republicans may not see Nevada in the same light.
In fact, Iowa, with it’s rural and heavily white population may be more of an indicator of eventual presidential success than Nevada.
In 2016, Ted Cruz won Iowa, barely beating Donald Trump, who claimed he was the victim of fraud at the time. But Trump’s unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa presaged his hold on rural America, which would eventually help him claim the presidency.
Nevertheless, Trump did win Nevada’s GOP primary decidedly by doing well with the same demographic in the Silver State. He lost Nevada both times to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 in the general election, meaning Nevada is a more important indicator for Democrats.
Nevada’s new law also changes the state’s election format from a party-run caucus to a government-run primary election, something for which Reid has long advocated. The law requires the primary to be held on the first Tuesday in February during a presidential election year.
New Hampshire has a law that allows the secretary of state discretion in setting its primary date.
“Harry Reid’s been doing this for over half a century now, and we’re just waiting for him to run out of steam,” New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat who’s served as the state’s top election official since 1976, told the AP.
Gardner also noted New Hampshire has hosted its primary in January twice in the last four cycles, intimating Nevada may not have moved up the date sufficiently.
South Carolina is also crucial for Democrats due to its share of the Black vote, an increasingly important component of the party. Many political pundits argue the path to the White House for Democrats is paved with African-American enthusiasm, as Barack Obama twice and Biden once, all relied on higher than average Black turnout. Hillary Clinton was unable to muster the same enthusiasm.
Jamie Harrison, a Black man from South Carolina and also the head of the Democratic National Committee, said he remained noncommittal after Nevada’s law was signed on Friday.
“We are going to continue to let the process play out, as it does every four years, and look forward to hearing the insight and recommendations from all interested parties on the 2020 reforms, and on the 2024 calendar at the appropriate time in the process,” Harrison said in a prepared statement issued Friday.
Biden has also remained neutral on the process.
Jen Psaki, White House spokesperson, declined to comment on the order of states for the primary process this week, according to the AP.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, widely credited for enlivening Biden’s flailing campaign in 2020, said he favored neither Nevada nor South Carolina, but felt that Iowa and New Hampshire were not appropriately representative of the American electorate.
“Those candidates on both sides — Democrats and Republicans — have not fared well when they get into the general elections,” he said.