Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is seeking to pull off one of the most improbable political upsets in American history, and Democrat Party infighting could give the long-shot candidate a much-needed early boost.
Controversy over which states will be the first voters in the 2024 Democratic primary is leading to an increasingly likely scenario where the sitting president won’t be on the ballot in the first two primary contests, according to a report from Axios. If Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats buck the DNC’s proposed changes to the primary schedule and move forward with voting first, President Joe Biden’s team indicated that the president won’t put his name on the ballots, seemingly ignoring that Iowa and New Hampshire will even hold a caucus and a primary. The potential shakeup would put RFK Jr. as the leading Democratic candidate and most recognizable name on the two states’ ballots.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) decided in February to make South Carolina the first primary state after President Biden said he wanted the Palmetto State to vote first. The DNC was motivated by a desire to put “black voters at the front of the process,” upending years of tradition where Iowa and New Hampshire were the first states to vote for the Democrat and Republican presidential nominees.
“For decades, black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” Biden wrote in a letter last December. “We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”
The move angered Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire. To comply with the DNC’s recommendation, New Hampshire would need to amend state rules, and New Hampshire Democrats openly bashed Biden for bumping them down in the primary schedule. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called the decision process “flawed,” saying that “top party officials had their own agenda from the start.”
While Iowa Democrats were not as openly upset with Biden and the DNC, Iowa Democratic Chair Rita Hart voiced some frustration with the DNC’s process. Hart said the decision showed that Democrats had stopped caring about rural voters, adding that it demonstrated that Democrats had “turned their back on Iowa and rural America.”
In May, Iowa Democrats said they would move forward with holding their caucuses on the same day as Republicans, keeping with tradition. The Iowa Democrats’ proposal to keep the caucus on the same day as Republicans will go to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will review the party’s primary plan on Friday in Minneapolis, Axios reported. The DNC must work through state laws, party rules, and state party proposals before the primary schedule is officially set.
Currently, the DNC aims to hold the South Carolina primary on February 3, 2024, followed on February 6 by New Hampshire and Nevada, Georgia on February 13, and Michigan on February 27.
RFK Jr. predicted last week that Biden wouldn’t “even put his name in Iowa and New Hampshire.”
“I think that he did not want to compete in New Hampshire and he wants to go to a state where they … can control the results more,” Kennedy told radio host Michael Smerconish.
Some Democrats have floated a write-in campaign for Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire if he isn’t on the ballot, but even if the president loses those states, some embarrassment and bad press would be the most Biden would suffer, according to Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.
“Even if a candidate is going to win the first mythical first states of Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s not going to matter,” Messina said.
The Democratic Party’s political machine and superdelegates heavily favor party insiders, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) discovered in his 2016 primary loss to Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, while being a thorn in Biden’s side, stands little chance of threatening the president’s chances at the nomination in any way. Biden consistently polls over 60% compared to RFK Jr.’s Real Clear Politics average of 16% and self-help author Marianne Williamson sitting around 7%.