Democrats are preparing to strip Iowa of leadership in the presidential nomination process starting in 2024, as part of a broader effort to allow overwhelmingly white states to go early and better reflect the party’s deeply diverse electorate.
The rule-making arm of the Democratic National Committee had planned on Friday to recommend the first four states that should vote, with a view to adding five before Super Tuesday, when many states hold primary elections. But she delayed the decision until after the November elections, fearing it would distract Democrats in key congressional races.
However, the caucus position in Iowa remains precarious after technical loopholes caused the crash in 2020. More than a decade of complaints that caucus rules requiring in-person attendance limit participation are reaching a peak. That sparked a boost for first place between New Hampshire, which is now second but traditionally starting with primary voting, and Nevada, a large Hispanic state looking to jump from third to first.
“I fully expect Iowa to be replaced. The preliminary calendar will be rearranged to better reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party and the country,” said Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and federal housing chief.
Castro is not a member of the rules committee but has criticized Iowa being the first since running in the 2019 presidential election. A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee said the rules committee is “going through a thorough process” and will continue to “allow it to be implemented.”
Iowa has weathered past challenges and may do so again, especially given that a final decision won’t come for months. She argues that, apart from 2020, voters here have a track record of launching the nomination process — and that the caucuses maintain Democrats’ importance amid the state’s recent shift to the right.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Welburn said he will fight to ensure that nearly 50 years of tradition survive.
“When I became president and we started this process, the word was ‘Iowa’,” Welburn told reporters on Thursday. No calendar was presented to the committee. We’re still in this fight.”
But several members of the rules committee privately said the party is leaning toward New Hampshire or Nevada going first, or possibly the same day. They all requested anonymity for more detailed discussions freely which are still ongoing.
South Carolina, with its large bloc of black Democrats, may move from fourth to third, freeing up a large Midwest state to go next. Michigan and Minnesota make strong cases, but both cannot change their prime dates without legislative approval, requiring Republican support.
If the commission adds a fifth place early, that could go to Iowa to soften the blow.
Iowa has been voting since 1976, when Jimmy Carter scored a surprise at a caucus and gained enough momentum to eventually win the presidency. Since then, New Hampshire has followed suit, which has held the nation’s first primary elections since 1920. Nevada and South Carolina have gone next since the 2008 presidential election, when Democrats last made a major primary calendar reform.
Nevada has now canceled its caucus in favor of the primaries. During a recent presentation to members of the Rules Committee, her delegation showed a video arguing that “tradition is not a good enough reason to maintain the status quo”.
“If the diverse and inclusive state is not at the forefront of the primary calendar, I’m really concerned that what we’re going to continue to see is the same criticism that we’ve seen about the Democratic primary process,” Nevada Democratic Senator Jackie Rosen said.
Representatives from Iowa and New Hampshire argue that small states allow all candidates — not just the well-funded — to personally contact voters, and that losing their seats could benefit Republicans in congressional races. The Republican Party has already decided to keep Iowa starting the 2024 presidential nomination cycle.
“Just as two other states were added to the early window, Nevada and South Carolina, ‘there is a sense that, just like America is not stagnant,’ the Democratic Party is changing and growing with the times as well,” Rules Committee member Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
New Hampshire Democratic National Committee member Bill Shaheen said he didn’t know what would have happened if the rules committee vote had not been postponed, but welcomed it as “another opportunity to show what kind of state we are.”
When the DNC agreed to amend the preliminary calendar before 2008, he called the Nevada caucus after Iowa and before New Hampshire, only to see New Hampshire advance in the primaries. Shaheen said his country could do the same this time, regardless of the party’s decision.
Shaheen and his wife, Jane, a senator, said, “We’re going to hold our first primaries whether the NDC recognizes it or not. There’s a good chance it will.”
And those pushing for more diverse states moving forward say Democrats could impose sanctions to prevent such maneuvers this time around.
Non-white voters made up 26% of all voters and endorsed Joe Biden over Donald Trump by a roughly 3-to-1 margin in the 2020 presidential election, according to the AP VoteCast, a national voter survey. Non-white voters made up 38% of the Democratic electorate at the time.
By contrast, 91% of Iowa’s 2020 Democratic caucus attendees were white and 94% of New Hampshire’s primary voters were white, according to VoteCast polls.
Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is helping to lead her state’s efforts to get off the ground, said Michigan reflects diversity “and that’s what we’re missing in this early primaries.”
“We don’t test candidates for what their general election will look like,” Dingell said, adding that Michigan “has got more county fairs than anyone else could.” This is reminiscent of the Iowa State Fair, where generations of presidential candidates grilled pork. And eat all kinds of fried foods imaginable.
“We are very good at serving fast food,” Dingell said with a laugh.
If the rules committee approves a revised framework, the full Democratic National Committee still has to be sanctioned, even though it usually supports such decisions.
This may be moot if Biden chooses to seek a second term. In that case, the party would likely have little appetite for building a strong primary schedule that would potentially allow another Democrat to challenge it for the nomination.
Some members of the Rules Committee have indicated that the White House has shown more interest in the initial assessment process recently, but others have expressed frustration that the Biden administration has not given them clearer guidance on where their preferences lie.
In addition to diversity, Democrats are considering electoral competitiveness and states’ efforts to loosen voting restrictions. They scrutinize the ethnic makeup of states, union membership and size in terms of population and geography – which can affect the odds of direct voter participation, travel and advertising costs.
After results were disrupted that prevented the Associated Press from declaring the winner, Iowa Democrats proposed changing the party group’s presidential preference portion to require all participants mail in their selections. But there have also been calls for more than a decade from top Democrats to move the starting line elsewhere, highlighting the party’s growth and potential among younger, color-bound voters.
Advocacy groups cheered Nevada’s order first, with Victorian Latinos, the Board of Directors of the Asian American Labor Fund, Boldback Congress Group, Somos Votants, and ASPIRE PAC, representing Asian-American and Pacific Islander members of Congress, chanting support.
Castro said his position was once an anomaly that angered party chiefs but has become increasingly acceptable among top Democrats.
He said, “This time looks different. After Iowa’s experience in 2020 — and after lobbying for fairness and racial justice in the past two years, the recognition that the Democratic Party is the only big tent party, the only inclusive party — it is fitting that our core calendar reflects that.” .
Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Holly Ramir in Concord, New Hampshire, and Hannah Fingerhout in Washington have contributed.