South Carolina, the first primary State? No, It Should Be Maryland.| GUEST COMMENTARY

President Joe Biden addresses a Democratic National Committee gathering in Philadelphia on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. DNC members this onth voted for a dramatic overhaul of the Democratic primary process, a critical step in Biden's effort to transform how the party picks its presidential nominees. (Al Drago for The New York Times)

In an effort to diversify the presidential primary process, the Democratic National Committee earlier this month overhauled the calendar, voting to no longer begin the nomination effort in largely white Iowa. Instead, South Carolina will kick things off, and Iowa will be pushed out of the early decision process entirely. Nevada, with its large Latino population; and Michigan, a swing state, will be moved forward in the primary schedule, along with Georgia.

The Democrats’ rationale for making South Carolina first was that it was more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire, a traditional second stop that will remain on the calendar. South Carolina also was crucial to now President Joe Biden’s campaign to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.


A Pew Research Center report on racial and ethnic composition among Democratic voters shows New Hampshire’s Democratic electorate is 94% white, and Iowa’s is 86% white, while South Carolina’s is 41% white and 51% African-American. Nevada’s 29% Latino Democrats, behind only California and Texas, solidifies their diversity case, as does Georgia, which has a 35% white Democratic voting population, 51% Black 8% Latino and 5% other.

The next question is: What about Michigan? The Pew Study shows Michigan with a 67% white population, 23% Black, and 10% other among voting Democrats.


Fine, but there is a state that is even more diverse, contains more components of the Democratic Party electorate, and is geographically centered between north and south. That place is our great state of Maryland. There are many reasons to offer up Maryland, not only as an early primary state, but as the first primary state.

First, the Pew study indicated that the Maryland Democratic electorate is 43% white, 43% Black and 14% other, which further breaks down as 6% Latino, 5% mixed, and 3% Asian. That is diversity. Next, Maryland’s white population is diverse occupationally: from retired coal miners in Western Maryland to federal workers in the Washington suburbs to watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, and Eastern Shore farmers.

African Americans, an increasingly relevant political force in Maryland, live across the state. Latinos are a growing presence, especially in the metro areas; and the Washington, D.C., area is home to many Asian Americans.

Religiously, Maryland is a heavily Catholic state, with a significant Protestant presence (especially among African Americans); the state has a small but influential Jewish population, both in the Baltimore and D.C. areas, while other faiths (and no affiliation) are growing in numbers.

Maryland has one of the nation’s best-educated populations, translating into higher per capita income, although there are areas of the state (Western Maryland, Baltimore City, and the Eastern Shore) where schooling lags, resulting in lower income. The workforce, from farmer, to waterman, to Federal employee, to union electrician, is one of the nation’s most diversified.

The Chesapeake Bay, important river systems (the Potomac and Susquehanna) and the Atlantic coast puts Maryland at the forefront of environmental concerns. Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and the National Security Agency (NSA) along with proximity to the nation’s capital make the state important in the areas of defense and national security.

Maryland is, of course, not a big state geographically, so candidates could campaign across it with ease, and the Baltimore and Washington media markets would provide outlets for candidate commercials (even if they, by the last week, drive voters crazy).

Maryland is an attractive choice for either an early primary or even the first primary on the Democratic Party nominating schedule. It is a good and reasonable idea. To paraphrase the old National Beer jingle (which I promoted as the new state song on this page), Democrats can enjoy a crab cake with a favorite beverage on the “shores of the Chesapeake Bay” (maybe frozen; it is a February primary!) in the “Land of Pleasant Living.”


William J. Thompson is a Baltimore historian, teacher and writer. His email is