October 12, 2021
President Biden is not a big fan. Former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez is openly opposed. And elsewhere in the Democratic inner sanctum, disdain for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus has been rising for years, The Washington Post reports.
Now the day of reckoning for Iowa Democrats is fast approaching, as the DNC starts to create a new calendar for the 2024 presidential nomination that could remove Iowa from its privileged position for the first time since 1972, when candidates started flocking to the state for an early jump on the race to the White House.
According to the Post, the caucuses’ reputation has been damaged a number of factors—among them:
- High barriers to participation,
- A dearth of racial diversity,
- The rightward drift in the state’s electorate, and
- A leftward drift in the Democratic participants.
The Iowa state party’s inability to count the results in 2020 only deepened dismay in the party.
Biden, who handily won the party’s nomination in 2020, noted the lack of diversity in the caucus during the campaign—“It is what it is,” he said of the calendar—and called his fourth-place finish in the state a “gut punch.”
“We have to be honest with ourselves, and Iowa is not representative of America,” Perez said Friday in an interview with the Post. “We need a primary process that is reflective of today’s demographics in the Democratic Party.”
Others in Biden’s extended orbit have come to similar conclusions about the caucuses, for varied reasons.
“It is not suited to normal people, people that actually have daily lives,” South Carolina State Senator Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of that state’s Democratic Party and a longtime Biden ally, said of the caucuses. He described the laborious process of participating, over multiple hours, in person, on a weeknight, as far more restrictive than the requirements of a new voter law in Texas that Democrats universally oppose.
Those views are broadly held among party officers, even though Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina party chair, says no decisions have been made. He intends to “let the process play out,” according to a statement to the Post. That process will be controlled by Biden and a small group of his allies, following the party’s tradition of granting the sitting president control over party decisions.
The first step took place Saturday, when the party met to accept a slate of at-large members and committee assignments that had been put forward by senior Democratic officials, in consultation with Biden aides. The number coming from Delaware, Biden’s home state, will bump to five from one; and the number of members from Washington, D.C., will rise from 15 to 20, which has angered some state parties that are losing representation.
A subgroup of those members, who sit on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, also were be confirmed. That group, little changed from the past cycle, has been charged with setting the calendar, with an expected decision as soon as the first half of next year, according to people involved.
“Given the unrepresentative nature of the electorate, the caucus procedures that make it virtually impossible for many people to participate, and the disaster in reporting this year, it’s hard to see how anyone can make the case for keeping it first with a straight face,” said one Democratic strategist involved in the calendar conversations, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.
Another Democrat put Iowa’s situation in even more stark terms: “Iowa had no friends before the 2020 race, or it had very few friends. And it certainly doesn’t have any friends after the 202o race.”
In 2020, the Iowa caucuses kicked off the presidential nominating contest on February 3, after enjoying months of bus tours and advertising attention from the candidates. New Hampshire held the first primary on February11; followed by two more racially diverse states: a caucus in Nevada and a primary in South Carolina.
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price said on February 7, 2020, that he had
Leaders in Nevada, with the support of former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D), recently changed state law to transition from a caucus to a primary and schedule the date on the first Tuesday in February in a bid to increase the state’s importance.
Representative James E. Clyburn (D-South Carolina), a longtime Biden ally, has like Reid been critical of the demographics of New Hampshire and Iowa. Ninety-one percent of Democratic caucus goers in Iowa were White in 2020, according to entry polls.
Among the possible solutions is a party ban on allowing convention delegates to be nominated in any early caucuses in the 2024 cycle. Perez has advocated allowing multiple states, possibly including South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, to vote on the same day, forcing campaigns to split their early campaign resources more broadly in the early parts of their campaign.
There remains broad concern about giving larger states too much say in the party’s decision, as Democrats say they do want to allow for a process that encourages meeting with voters and gives less-well-funded or known candidates a chance to win on their merits.
“Iowa’s position is really in danger. On the other hand, I have got to say, when you look at the early states, you can’t have a big state. You don’t want people to be priced out,” said Jeff Weaver, a presidential campaign adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). “With California, Texas, Florida and New York as the first four, you would know who the nominee is before you even started.”
None of that means pushing Iowa to the side will be easy. Attempts by DNC commissions in 1978 and 1981 to change the date of the Iowa caucuses ultimately failed.
A state law in Iowa requires the parties to hold their nominating caucuses at least eight days before any other state caucus or primary, and the state law in New Hampshire requires that its primary be at least a week before any other state. Republicans, who control government in both states, have made it clear that they plan to stick to tradition for their party in 2024.
Research contact: @washingtonpost