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Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses a crowd.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigns in Denver outside of the Fillmore Auditorium on Feb. 23, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The bid to make Colorado one of the first states to hold a Democratic presidential primary in 2024 appears to have fallen short, with the Democratic National Committee, at the direction of President Joe Biden, poised to select South Carolina as the party’s replacement for Iowa after five decades.

Colorado was among dozens of states vying to have the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary starting in 2024. Under the plan backed last week by the DNC’s rule-making arm, South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary is expected to be held Feb. 3, 2024, though that still needs the approval of the full DNC early next year.

Under the proposal, South Carolina would be followed by Nevada and New Hampshire three days later. Georgia would go the following week and Michigan two weeks after Georgia.

Colorado’s primary date is set by the governor. In 2020, Gov. Jared Polis selected Super Tuesday for the state’s presidential primary contest. Super Tuesday is the date on which multiple states hold their presidential primary.

“We obviously thought Colorado would be a really great (first presidential primary) state,” said Morgan Carroll, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party, who wrote a letter to the DNC in May asking the committee to make Colorado the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary state. “We’ll still press our case for why we think we’re a good state for first in the nation. But if it does wind up being South Carolina, we still feel like this is good for the country.”

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Carroll said Democrats needed to move the nation’s first presidential primary out of Iowa because “it just lacks the diversity that the Democratic electorate has in much of the rest of the country, and it tends to skew a little bit who might come out with early momentum.” She said Colorado reflects that diversity, as does South Carolina.

Carroll said there’s discussion about switching which state holds the first Democratic presidential primary from election cycle to election cycle, which could bode well for Colorado down the line. The DNC plans to revisit the primary calendar again before 2028.

“I don’t know how much traction that’ll get,” she said, “but what’s appealing (about it) is I just think you get a different snapshot of America through different states.”

Having the nation’s first presidential primary would have ensured Colorado got more attention from presidential candidates. In 2020, Biden did not make a public appearance in the state before the primary, and other candidates visited only a few times as they focused on Super Tuesday states with more DNC delegates, which are tied to states’ populations and their Democratic vote share.

The DNC hasn’t released its 2024 delegate formula yet, but since Colorado’s population is relatively small, it lacks the same kind of 2024 presidential primary importance as California or Massachusetts, two other 2020 Super Tuesday states.

Carroll said the Colorado Democratic Party is thinking through how to make sure presidential candidates pay attention to Colorado, even if it’s not as politically important as other states.

Morgan Carroll, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“It’s just having organizational capacity that’s kind of turnkey — ready and easy for a quick stop by or making the most of Zoom,” she said. “Some of it is just connecting early with the campaigns to get on their radar and making the most of Colorado’s ties to any candidates that wind up running.”

The revamped schedule could largely be moot for 2024 if Biden opts to seek a second term, but may remake Democratic presidential cycles after that. The president has said for months that he intends to run again, and White House aides have begun making staffing discussions for his likely reelection campaign, even though no final decision has been made.

If Biden doesn’t run in 2024, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is considered one of Democrats’ top contenders. The Washington Post on Saturday, in an analysis Saturday of Democrats’ top 10 potential presidential candidates in 2024, listed the governor No. 4.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2020, hasn’t ruled out a 2024 bid if Biden doesn’t run.

Biden wrote in a letter to DNC rules committee members last week that the party should scrap “restrictive” caucuses altogether because their rules on in-person participation can sometimes exclude working-class and other voters. He also told party leaders privately that he’d like to see South Carolina go first to better ensure that voters of color aren’t marginalized as Democrats choose a presidential nominee.

Four of the five states now poised to start the party’s primary are presidential battlegrounds, meaning the eventual Democratic winner would be able to lay groundwork in important general election locales. That’s especially true for Michigan and Georgia, which both voted for Donald Trump in 2016 before flipping to Biden in 2020. The exception is South Carolina, which hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential race since 1976.

The plan backed by the rules committee has faced serious pushback, with some states vowing to ignore the changes altogether. That’s despite the panel approving language saying states could lose all of their delegates to the party’s national convention if they attempt to violate new rules.

Iowa and New Hampshire have said laws in their states mandate them going before others, and they intend to abide by those, not DNC decrees. 

Only committee members from Iowa and New Hampshire objected to the proposal that passed Friday, with everyone else supporting it.

The Republican National Committee has already decided to keep Iowa’s caucus as the first contest in its 2024 presidential primary, ensuring that GOP White House hopefuls — which include Trump — have continued to frequently campaign there.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...