Iowa Democrats say they’ll keep working to keep the state’s caucuses first

By: - August 2, 2022 11:04 am

(Image by Spxchrome/Getty Images)

Iowa Democrats say they will keep fighting for Iowa’s spot as the nation’s first caucus — and now they have more time to make their case. The Democratic National Committee has delayed its decision about the 2024 presidential nominating calendar until after this year’s midterm elections.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws committee delayed the decision Saturday, a week before it was supposed to make a final decision. In a statement Monday, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said the state party will keep working with the DNC in the new timeframe.

“From the beginning, I was assured by Chair Jaime Harrison that there would be a fair process in place,” Wilburn said in a statement. “I’m committed to fighting for Iowa to maintain its position on the nomination calendar and we will continue to provide information as requested by the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee.”

The announcement came after multiple states said shifting the 2024 lineup in August could hurt Democratic candidates’ chances in this year’s elections. The committee leaders have not set a date to reconvene on the issue.

“Following the midterm elections, we will reconvene to update our evaluation of the applicant pool and work toward a final decision to present to the full DNC for a vote, which DNC leadership has assured us they will make happen as soon after the midterm elections as is possible,” Minyon Moore and Jim Roosevelt Jr., chairs of the Rules & Bylaws Committee, wrote in a letter to committee members Saturday.

States presented arguments to the committee in June about why they should go first in the 2024 nominating process. Earlier this year, the DNC decided the early voting lineup held since 2006 — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — was up for change. Iowa was one of 17 state, along with Puerto Rico, to make their case to receive one of five waivers allowing states to hold their presidential nominating contests before the first Tuesday in March.

Iowa Democratic leaders argued that Iowa has served as a good starting point for Democratic presidential candidates on the path toward a general election victory. They also said if Iowa loses its first-in-the-nation caucus spot, state elections will be less competitive.

Some Democrats have argued that Iowa already is not competitive. The party holds control in both legislative wings and the governor’s seat in the statehouse. In Washington, both of Iowa’s senators and three of its four representatives are Republicans.

In this year’s election, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is forecast by national pundits as likely to win his election against Democratic challenger Michael Franken, though his lead is narrower than in previous re-election campaigns. Election forecasters also  predict U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, may be at risk in her race against State Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Altoona.

But some Democrats, including Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, have pointed out that Democrat wins are not as far gone as some believe. In 2018, Democrats won contested U.S. House races in the 1st and 3rd Districts and picked up six seats in the Iowa House. While Republicans are winning right now, Konfrst said tides can change again quickly.

If Iowa loses its early voting spot in the DNC process, it may be more difficult for Democrats to take back lost territory, Konfrst said. Republicans have already committed to starting the 2024 presidential nominating process with Iowa first.

“We did make a good case for why Iowa deserves to continue to be the first test for presidential candidates. … And one of the reasons is Republicans will be going first,” Konfrst said during a news conference in June. “So in order to help Democrats continue to grow, and for our party to continue to stay strong in the state, Democrats being first is critical to that point.”

Iowa is not the only state concerned about Democrats’ viability in the midterms — and future elections — if the standing nominating schedule changes. Nevada, another early nominating state re-applying for its position, has a competitive U.S. Senate race this year, ranked a “toss-up” by Cook Political Report. New Hampshire’s race ranks “lean Democrat.”

The New Hampshire Bulletin reported that Republicans there called the DNC delay a political decision, made to help re-elect U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat. The primary deciding her GOP challenger will be held Sept. 13.

States like Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois, which hope to serve as a Midwestern alternative to Iowa in the early nominating lineup, also have contested races this year. All three states are more racially diverse than Iowa and hold primaries instead of caucuses, which the DNC prefers.

But Iowa Democrats say having a state like Iowa first is necessary for winning a general election. Iowa doesn’t have a major metropolitan area with expensive media markets like the other three Midwestern states do, which means candidates who aren’t starting out with a lot of money have a chance at winning recognition. Additionally, having a candidate that does well in a place like Iowa bodes well for their chances in other rural states, which is necessary for a candidate to win in the electoral college, they argued.

“Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our Democratic presidential nominating process,” Wilburn said. “We cannot let corporate media and special interest groups replace our strong Democratic grassroots organizations which have been the bedrock of our national general election victories.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.