The Iowa caucuses launched Barack Obama’s historic presidency — and a thousand cheesy jokes about an odd way of voting — but now a half-century of political tradition is likely coming to an end for Democrats.
The party is expected to drop Iowa as the party’s first nominating contest as part of a reshuffle of the Democrats’ primary calendar aimed at increasing the political power of black voters. The top spot would go to South Carolina, a state that boosted Joe Biden’s beating campaign and propelled him to victory in the 2020 primary.
Under a new proposal approved by a key panel of the Democratic National Committee, the primary calendar would begin with South Carolina on February 3, 2024, followed by New Hampshire — long the nation’s first primary — and Nevada on February 3. 6, with Georgia on February 13 and Michigan at the end of the month on February 27.
In a tearful meeting last month, the DNC’s decision-making body voted in favor of the calendar change; the full DNC is scheduled to follow next month. Party activist and commentator Donna Brazile said the move was a long-overdue corrective for black voters who are seen as the party’s grassroots.
“Do you know what it’s like to live on a dirt road? Do you know what it’s like to find clean running water?” Brazile said. “You know what it’s like to wait and see if the storm will pass you and your roof is still intact? That’s what this is about.”
Overall, the move would greatly diversify the constituency of the early nominating contests. At the same time, Iowa would emerge as something of a relic — the quirky contest that killed so many political dreams, if not always quietly.
“What the caucuses are doing is not so much saying who the candidate and eventual president will be, but saying who the candidate and president will not be,” Dennis Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines, Spectrum News said.
Rather by accident, the caucuses gained national prominence in 1972; Four years later, Iowa voters catapulted Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter into the White House.
The next and only Democrat to follow was Barack Obama in 2008.
Meanwhile, candidates — and the press — camped out from Sioux City to Davenport for weeks during the winter, and many marveled at the sheer oddness of caucus night.
On a certain Tuesday night, residents trudge into a high school gym or even someone’s living room. They publicly show their preference for a candidate, often moving from one wall to another.
Despite all these efforts, the vote isn’t even binding and many Iowans don’t even participate. Iowa also botched the 2020 count.
However, being number one for decades gave Iowans plenty of time with contestants.
Goldford says, “The typical joke in Iowa is ‘You support the candidate so and so?’ ‘Well, I don’t know. I only met him three or four times. I have not decided yet.'”
Don’t hear Hawkeye State’s swan song just yet: State law still requires them to beat the order. The Republican-controlled state government is unlikely to change the Democrat calendar — a situation similar to that in New Hampshire and Georgia.
If the calendar is not moved in accordance with DNC orders, states’ Democratic voters could see their delegates stripped at the 2024 convention.
It’s unclear what the ramifications might be for Democrats in the November 2024 general election; People tend to vote on larger issues than the nomination calendar. Iowa last voted for a Democrat in 2012. South Carolina has not voted since 1976. New Hampshire has not voted for a Republican since 2020.
But that is many months from now. After Iowa has hosted half a century of political theater, there could be at least one more election night surprise irresistible.
“Some talk about doing a ‘rub it in your face’ caucus anyway just to make a mark,” says Goldford.