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Clyburn says Biden pushed to move South Carolina up in primary calendar to avoid ‘embarrassment’

<i>Gerald Herbert/AP</i><br/>In this 2020 photo
Gerald Herbert/AP
In this 2020 photo

By Sydney Kashiwagi, CNN

(CNN) — President Joe Biden supported a decision to make South Carolina, not New Hampshire, the first Democratic presidential primary state in 2024 so as to avoid “embarrassment” in a state where the demographic makeup is less favorable to Democrats, Rep. Jim Clyburn told CNN’s Chris Wallace.

Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee approved a proposal backed by Biden to move up South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan in the 2024 Democratic calendar, breaking with decades of tradition of Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states to hold nominating contests.

Biden has said he wants to give Black, brown and Asian American and Pacific Islander voters an earlier say in the presidential nominating process and that the new order would better reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party. But the move also would provide Biden with more favorable political turf; he had poor showings in the first nominating contests of 2020 before a strong victory in South Carolina, backed by the state’s Black voter base, resurrected his campaign.

On “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace,” the CNN anchor asked Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and longtime ally of Biden’s, if the president was “stacking the deck” in making the decision.

“I don’t think you’re stacking the deck. I think you’re avoiding embarrassment, that is what he is attempting to avoid here,” said Clyburn, one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in Congress. “And I would expect anybody to do the same.”

“You do not have the demographics as required for Democrats in the general election, and neither one of those states (Iowa and New Hampshire) have the demographics that are favorable to Democrats in the general, I think we know that,” Clyburn continued.

Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden ahead of the South Carolina primary was widely seen as instrumental in Biden’s victory, said he didn’t blame Biden for wanting to shake up the calendar.

“Why should President Biden sit back and allow a state that he finished fifth in be first up?” Clyburn said, noting that Biden remembers what happened to President Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire in 1968. A shockingly strong showing by Sen. Eugene McCarthy demonstrated Johnson’s political weakness and prompted Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to enter the race, ultimately prompting Johnson to not seek reelection.

“(Johnson) goes up to New Hampshire and gets embarrassed and drops out of the race. So why should (Biden) expose himself to that?” Clyburn continued.

Under the new Democratic primary calendar, South Carolina would hold the first primary on February 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on February 6, Georgia on February 13 and Michigan on February 27.

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