Democratic Party officials earlier this year approved a plan that requires any state that wants to hold a nominating contest before the first Tuesday in March — including the traditional early four of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to apply for permission.
In the coming weeks, the Rules and Bylaws Committee will select up to five states using criteria that prioritize diverse battlegrounds that choose to hold primaries, not caucuses. That decision will then need to be approved by the full Democratic National Committee.
Because the party is aiming to have every region of the country represented among the early group of states, and the positions of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are generally considered to be secure, it’s expected there will be fierce competition among other Midwestern states to be the alternative to Iowa.
Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois are jockeying for that spot, but all three bids have potential problems of their own.
Iowa’s proposal to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the body tasked with setting the party’s nominating rules, calls for several simplifications to the caucus process.
“We recognize that caucuses, as they have been conducted since the 1970s, are no longer aligned with a vibrant and just twenty-first century democracy. In order to continue growing our party, we need to make changes,” the party’s application reads.
No longer would Iowa Democrats have to gather on a weekday evening and separate into groups to indicate which candidates they support. Instead, caucusgoers would receive presidential preference cards in the weeks leading up to caucus night, which they would fill out and return. On caucus night itself, those results would be reported and the caucuses themselves would be more focused on party business.
The change would also eliminate the process of “realignment,” where if candidates didn’t hit a threshold of support, their backers would be able to select second choices. Under the proposed plan, Iowa Democrats would get only a single choice.
The Iowa Democratic Party proposed contracting with an outside company or with election officials to run the process, a response to the organizational and communications problems that plagued its 2020 caucuses. The new plan would also eliminate much of the complicated math that volunteer caucus leaders have had to do, another element that caused issues in 2020.
Iowa’s application also tries to answer other criticisms from party leaders — especially that the state is too White to be reflective of a diversifying national party and that the state, which former President Donald Trump won by 8 percentage points in 2020, is no longer politically competitive.
While the application acknowledges that Iowa’s racial breakdown doesn’t mirror the nation’s, it points to the state’s rural Latino communities and more diverse urban school districts as evidence that there “are diverse communities living, thriving, and dealing with complex political issues” in Iowa.
The application argues that Iowa presents a vital opportunity for Democrats to connect with rural voters who have shifted away from the party in the recent years and that without its early status, the state would continue to move toward Republicans.
If not the Hawkeye State, then what?
State parties had until June 3 to submit their applications. Earlier this month, the Democratic National Committee invited 16 states and Puerto Rico to move forward with the application process. New York, Nebraska and the group Democrats Abroad were the only applicants who didn’t make the cut.
This week, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington will make presentations to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.
But while Minnesota and Michigan are competitive and diverse, Democrats would need cooperation from Republicans — the state GOP in Minnesota or the Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan, to change the primary date. That process could be complicated because national Republicans don’t plan on disturbing Iowa’s place at the head of their calendar.
On the other hand, Illinois is a large, heavily Democratic state that’s anchored by a single major metropolitan area — all factors that could weigh against its bid.