National Democrats are poised to turn decades-long political precedents on their head this week as they gather in Washington, DC, to vote on a new presidential nomination calendar — one that will finally pry Iowa from its status as first in the should push nation.
Members of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee are exploring scenarios that could put New Hampshire or Nevada on top and put a new state like Michigan or Minnesota in the early voting window.
While the outcome is far from certain, few expect Iowa, which has been in the presidential nomination process since 1972, to hold onto its coveted position after a disastrous 2020 caucus that left the party dead for days, amid a tangle of technology and organizational failures.
The collapse fueled growing concerns among Democrats that the state is too white to represent an increasingly diverse party, prompting the committee to open its review of the calendar and first-voting states.
These positions are highly coveted — and closely guarded — because the inaugural states draw undue attention from presidential candidates who meticulously court their constituents’ support and bring in millions of dollars in spending and national media exposure for the state.
The early states also wield immense influence over the course of the nomination process as candidates attempt to build momentum or stave off the collapse of their campaigns.
The shift is not expected to have an immediate impact on the Republican calendar, which has already been approved by the Republican National Committee. Iowa is scheduled to lead that process again in 2024.
The Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee is scheduled to meet December 1-3 to propose and vote on changes to the calendar, after a decision in July to postpone the politically complicated decision until after November’s midterm elections. A vote could take place as early as Friday.
Although members of the committee have discussed the issue at length over the past year, they have not made any public proposals ahead of this week’s meeting. President Joe Biden has also not publicly interfered as leader of the national party.
Still, committee members made their preferences clear as they reviewed proposals from more than a dozen states interested in assuming Iowa’s role as frontrunner. They have said they favor states that hold state primaries, have diverse electorates, and are competitive battlegrounds for general elections.
More:What does it take to be the first? These states want an early spot on the Democratic presidential calendar
Any state they choose must also be able to legally and quickly advance the date of their presidential primary.
The result, committee members say, will align the party more closely with its base and increase Democrats’ chances of capturing the White House in 2024 and beyond.
New Hampshire, Nevada are vying for status as the nation’s first
States like New Hampshire and Nevada, which have traditionally followed Iowa on the calendar, are aggressively pitching for the lead spot in 2024.
And newcomers Michigan and Minnesota are keen to join the early window as two Midwestern states with more diverse populations than Iowa. Committee members have identified the two as possible additions.
Each state is bringing its case before the committee this week, arguing that the results of the 2020 midterm election prove it is an ideal starting point for the Democratic Party’s primary process.
But every state has disadvantages.
Nevada and New Hampshire have argued they are clear battleground states after Democratic senators won re-election in both states, though Republicans claimed both governors’ mansions.
“The 2022 interim results further underscore that no state is better positioned or would do more for the national Democratic Party in holding the First-In-The-Nation presidential primary than Nevada,” wrote Nevada Democratic strategist Rebecca Lambe, circulated in a memo to the committee shortly after the midterms. “It is even clearer today that no other state other than Nevada meets all key aspects of the DNC’s own criteria for the early window of diversity, competitiveness and accessibility.”
But Nevada also showed in the interim period that it’s slow at counting votes, a key drawback in a nomination process that requires rapid tabulation — a lesson underscored by Iowa’s 2020 Democrat delays.
And New Hampshire, though geographically small and easily traversed by campaigns, has an even less diverse population than Iowa.
Michigan Democrats won a clean victory in the state Legislature in November, giving them full control to change the date of their primary elections through a change in state law — solving a key concern of the committee. Members of the State Senate made a first attempt on the subject on Tuesday. passing of laws that would move the state’s presidential primary from the second Tuesday in March to the second Tuesday in February.
However, concerns remain about the cost of competition in such a large state with relatively expensive media markets.
In Minnesota, Democrats also control the levers of government and have promised to change state laws to allow for an early primary. Gov. Tim Walz and state legislators pledged to do so in a letter to the committee on Monday.
“As Governor and new leaders of the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, we are committed to expeditiously passing and signing legislation that would make this move possible,” they wrote.
But Minnesota’s Democrats face an additional hurdle: They must reach an agreement with Republicans to change the date of the state’s presidential primary.
Mo Elleithee, a committee member and executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, has urged the committee to think fully about the calendar without being “held hostage to tradition.” Nevada will hold its primary on the same day as the calendar start.
“It could be something that really sends a strong message to the country,” he said at the committee’s July meeting.
Iowa Democrats make one final pitch to the committee
For their part, Iowa officials have not given up, lobbying the committee directly in the days leading up to the meeting and issuing a memo Monday night outlining the strengths it brings to the table.
“It is critical that small rural states like Iowa have a voice in our presidential nomination process,” wrote Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn. “Democrats cannot fail an entire constituency in the heart of the Midwest without damaging the party for a generation.”
Democrats in the mostly white state lost significant ground to Republicans in the recent election, and Iowa is required by law to hold caucuses in lieu of primary elections. However, Iowa Democrats noted that the state has one of the nation’s leading nonpartisan redistribution systems, which has resulted in fair congressional tickets that could help Democrats stay competitive in the years to come.
Still, Iowa Democratic activists and party leaders concede that retaining a role in the early voting window would be a win for the state party.
State Examiner Rob Sand, who narrowly won re-election this year and is Iowa’s only surviving statewide Democrat, wrote that the party’s lackluster election result “makes it all the more important that Iowa stays first, or at least stays early.”
“Now more than ever, Iowans need Democrats to show up, listen and do the work,” he wrote.
The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to vote on a proposal this week and send it to the DNC’s full body for ratification in the coming months.
Francesca Chambers is the White House Correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter at @fran_chambers.