Will Iowa and New Hampshire Lose Their Special Place?
Nevada is mounting a challenge to the rural, lily-white states that always go first in the presidential primary gauntlet.
POLITICO’s David Siders and Elena Schneider report “It might just be game over for the Iowa caucus.”
The siege of Iowa and New Hampshire has begun.
The two states with privileged places on the presidential primary calendar are finding their roles more threatened than ever before — most recently in the form of a bill introduced in Nevada this week to move that state’s nominating contest to the front of the line in 2024.
On its own, the Nevada encroachment would mean little. For years, Iowa and New Hampshire have successfully defended their one-two position from states eager to jump ahead. But the combination of Iowa’s botched 2020 caucus and increasing diversity in the Democratic Party’s ranks has made the whiteness of Iowa and New Hampshire all the more conspicuous, putting the two states on their heels and throwing the 2024 calendar into turmoil.
“There’s no reason in the world that those states should go forward so early, because they’re not representative of what 90 percent of the country’s all about,” said former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who remains influential in party politics. “America looks different than it did 50 years ago, when these traditions were put in place, and the Democratic electorate looks really different.”
He added, “It’s no longer palatable, as far as I’m concerned, for those states to take precedence over states like South Carolina and Nevada.”
That Iowa and New Hampshire are absurdly unrepresentative has been the subject of quadrennial controversy for quite some time now. Beyond, that, if we’re going to select major party Presidential nominees through a staggered series of primaries and caucuses, it’s simply unfair for the same two states to always go first. And, of course, the caucus method is absurdly undemocratic even compared to primaries.
But other states have been trying to push their way to the front of the line for as long as I can remember and the parties have both, for reasons I don’t fully understand, continued to privilege Iowa and New Hampshire.
The legislation marked the first real offensive in what is likely to be a drawn-out war over the outline of the 2024 presidential nominating process. In Iowa, the state’s Democratic Party chair, state Rep. Ross Wilburn, said he is “prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Iowa first in the nation.” And in New Hampshire, Bill Gardner, the longtime secretary of state, said neither the Democratic National Committee nor the Republican National Committee will dictate to his state when it can vote.
“The status of the primary was not given to New Hampshire by the parties,” Gardner said, referring to the state law that requires New Hampshire to hold its primary at least seven days before any “similar election” in another state. “We have a law, and we’ll comply with our law.”
Iowa has a similar law on its books, stating that it must hold its caucuses at least eight days before any other nominating contest.
While the parties have been loath to actually punish states for violating their rules, they could simply require that no contests held before a given date will be counted. Regardless, Iowa and New Hampshire have thus far prevailed in the fight.
This time, though, the fallout may be fatal. Tom Perez, the former DNC chair, has blasted the tradition of Iowa and New Hampshire going first. In Nevada, Reid has been calling since last year for his state to both do away with its caucus system — which would appease national Democrats — and go first in the nominating process. The bill introduced this week, in addition to switching the state’s caucus to a primary, would set the date for the second-to-last Tuesday in January.
Nevada’s Democratic Assembly Speaker, Jason Frierson, suggested the bill was a starting point for a “national conversation about what makes sense.”
Pretty much everyone agrees that having candidates spend a year eating pancakes and hanging out in the living rooms of influencers in two rural, lily-white states is an absurd way to sort candidates. And, increasingly, it doesn’t even accomplish that function—Joe Biden finished 4th in Iowa and an embarrassing 5th in New Hampshire—contests where Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders traded 1-2 finishes—and yet ran away with the nomination shortly thereafter.
Still, as irrational as the system is, Iowa and New Hampshire’s interest in maintaining the status quo seems to be a lot greater than any momentum to change it. And, as the piece points out, there isn’t really much time to hash this out. The 2024 campaign, at least on the Republican side, is going to start any minute now.