The Democratic National Committee‘s flirtation with creating a new nomination calendar is facing stiff resistance in Iowa, where Democrats are bracing for a fierce battle over its first-in-the-nation status.
“Yes, this will be a fight,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist.
Iowa has been first on the nomination calendar since 1972 and served as a springboard for the likes of Presidents Jimmy Carter in 1972 and Barack Obama in 2008.
More than anything, the caucus results — and the reaction of the news media and donors to them — have helped winnow the field of White House contenders.
The DNC Rules and By-laws Committee is now considering changes to the sequence of the nominating calendar that gives preference to diverse, Democrat-friendly states that hold an “inclusive nominating process.”
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have traditionally kicked off the nomination process, reaping the financial benefits of being a presidential campaign hot spot, while dismissing the charge they hold an oversized influence.
The draft rules being considered would require states interested in holding their nomination contest before the first Tuesday in March to apply to the Rules and Bylaws Committee. The committee would then approve as many as five early state contests based on its ethnic, economic, union and regional diversity and overall “competitiveness” as well as its ability to “run a fair, transparent and inclusive nominating process.”
The criteria, which will be voted on by the rules committee in mid-April, have renewed the debate over the lack of diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are both more than 90% White.
Another possible strike against Iowa is the caucus format, which critics say relies on an arcane set of rules that limit participation and are undemocratic in nature.
Plus, confidence in the caucus system took a major hit in 2020 after a glitch in the system left the final count in limbo for days.
There also is a sense the state is slipping away from Democrats. Former President Donald Trump carried Iowa in back-to-back races, and Republicans have been making gains in Congress and the statehouse.
It all has fed into the idea that Iowa’s time has come and gone, and that it is time to freshen things up. Michigan, for instance, is thought to be a possible replacement.
In a virtual meeting Monday, members of the DNC‘s rules committee voiced support for overhauling the process, saying they must if they hope to truly be the “party of diversity.”
“We cannot do the same thing over and over again because it is tradition or the status quo,” said Maria Cardona, founder of Latinovations and rules committee member from the District of Columbia. “Our country is changing. We need to change with it.”
Leah Daughtry, a former CEO of the Democratic National Committee, said the party “cannot be stuck in a 50-year-old calendar.”
“This idea of considering the changing electorate is so important,” Ms. Daughtry said.
Iowa Democrats counter that the party must stay focused on winning elections and the state is key to that.
“Sometimes I think we as Democrats don’t always focus on the ultimate result,” Scott Brennan, a member of the rules committee from Iowa, told The Washington Times. “We obviously want the best possible process to get there, but we still have to keep a sight on the end goal: electing Democrats as presidents.”
“The early states, which I include Iowa in, all offer something — regional diversity, ethnic diversity,” Mr. Brennan said. “We are the only one that is primarily a rural state with a lot of working-class folks and we are in the Midwest. As far as I can figure out, you can’t elect a Democratic president if you can’t come up with some level of success in this part of the country.”
Mr. Brennan said the state party is working to strengthen the caucus system and ease concerns related to 2020.
Jan Bauer, a DNC member from Iowa, said the party must not lose sight of the key role the state has played in giving candidates running on shoestring budgets the chance to compete on a level playing field.
“I think it is going to change the direction of the nomination process if we go to larger states upfront,” Ms. Bauer said. “You will end up [with] made-for-TV campaigns, which really don’t give small unknown candidates without the huge campaigns backing them up … an opportunity.
“If we had that style of nominating process back in 2008, Barack Obama would have never had a chance,” she said.
Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge said kicking off things in Iowa ensures that candidates address issues confronting working-class voters across the Midwest. She said it would be a big mistake for Democrats to miss out on the opportunity to go after those Obama-Trump voters.
“Are we too lopsided Republican right now? No of course not. We voted for Obama. This swings back and forth in Iowa,” she said. “Let’s not give away that low ground.”