The shakeup is part of a broader move by Democratic Party forces to eliminate caucuses and give voters of color more clout. While Democrats moved Nevada and South Carolina forward on the calendar in 2008 to increase the racial diversity of voters who have an early say in presidential nominations, the party voted this spring to fully reopen the nomination process, including two first places occupied for a half century by Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Nothing is locked down,” said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and a member of the rules committee. “There are no sacred cows here.”
In addition to boosting diversity, another top priority of the DNC is maintaining regional balance, giving different parts of the country an early voice in presidential nomination processes. That puts particular pressure on the Midwest space, given Iowa’s precarious position. Two states, Michigan and Minnesota, are frequently cited by Democratic Party operatives as top contenders for the job.
“There is a fight over the Midwest and over which state will represent it,” said Jane Kleeb, chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. The state is touting its rural voters and farming communities (Democrats have lost support from both blocs in recent years) as a reason to elevate the state and improve communication with those groups.
“The good news is that all of us, including Iowa, want to make sure the region is well represented,” Kleeb continued.
For Michigan, moving forward is a decades-long crusade, started by the late Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and now led by Rep. debbie dingell (D-Mich.), who was credited with opening this process in 2006. The DNC ultimately did not select Michigan for the first window of that cycle, but the state went ahead anyway in 2008, hosting a primary not licensed in conjunction with Florida. They were sanctioned by the party, initially stripped of their delegates, and ultimately receiving half the vote at the 2008 convention.
“I’ve never given up on this and after Iowa, I said, ‘It’s time for a change,’” Dingell said. “A lot of other people agreed, and that’s why we’re here.”
Michigan is more racially diverse than Iowa, and it’s also one of the top states in the general election battleground, another key criteria set by the DNC’s rules committee. But to change the date of their primary, Michigan Democrats must pass a bill in the Republican-controlled state legislature, a bigger hurdle than Minnesota, where the only requirement to change the date is an agreement between the presidents. of the two parties.
Dingell said he is having “necessary discussions” about the feasibility of changing the date, but declined to share any further details about those discussions.
Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said it’s “critical” that early states force nominees to show they can appeal to the base and “win those seats that move the Electoral College … and both Michigan and Minnesota They do it really beautifully.” . How about we add both?
The DNC rules committee has raised the possibility of adding up to five states to the initial window, a jump from the current four.
In announcing their request, Iowa Democrats said they wanted to further streamline the caucus process, considering changes such as eliminating the “realignment” process, an intricate ranked-choice-style element of caucus math that weeds out candidates who do not meet a 15 percentage threshold and redistributes their supporters to other candidates.
Still, “we’re in a tough spot, and we’ve been in a tough spot before,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist. “But we don’t seem to have as many cards up our sleeves for this one as we have in last”.
The rest of the current starting lineup — New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — are also defending their spots, even if the scrutiny on them is less intense than the one facing Iowa. But a race is also heating up to be the state that it’s going first in the nation, with Nevada pushing to jump from third to first and New Hampshire looking to keep its first-ever primary, and perhaps push the Iowa caucuses out of the way, too.
“If they keep New Hampshire in the first place, they better not open it to begin with because it means it was all a show,” said Julián Castro, a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who criticized the order. the first states during his campaign. “Everyone knows what the deal is, that [the first state] it is where the attention goes, where all the candidates campaign and the concern of that state receives inordinate attention. Given that, it makes sense to have a diverse state with communities with a variety of concerns to act on first.”
In the Northeast, New York and New Jersey are joining New Hampshire for consideration. Both are extremely expensive states for television advertising, but New Jersey is leaning toward diversity and compactness, arguing that candidates can quickly and efficiently reach the entire state.
“It’s 50 years of doing the same thing, and when you do the same thing, you generally get the same result,” said New Jersey Democratic Party Chairman LeRoy Jones. “Now, it’s time to recalibrate, flip the script, and New Jersey fits.”
In the South, Texas and Georgia are applying. Georgia features some of the hottest races in 2022, turning blue for the first time in decades during the 2020 election. In Texas, state Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa also pointed to the state’s growing competitiveness.
“If Texas is recognized as an early state in the primary, it will be easier for us to build on that as the primary process progresses and become a state that Democrats can win in November,” Hinojosa said.
In the West, Washington and Colorado are also getting into the game. Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski emphasized her state’s large union representation and Asian American and Pacific Islander population as key demographics that need more attention from the initial state process.
Puerto Rico, a US territory, does not have votes in the Electoral College, so “the only way we can have any impact on the national political process is through the primary process,” said Charles Rodríguez, chairman of the Democratic Party. But “I think it would be advantageous for it to be one of the first because it can impact the Latino vote on the continent.”
National Republicans, by contrast, voted earlier this month to make no changes to their 2024 presidential lineup, keeping Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as the starting four states.
One thing the DNC hasn’t addressed yet: changing the primary command will likely require some enforcement mechanism, such as stripping a state of delegates if it skips the approved line. Some Iowa Democrats have already threatened to hold an unauthorized caucus in 2024, regardless of what the rules committee decides.
“Not only will they be looking to change the order and composition of the first window, but they will also have to figure out how they will enforce it, whether they will sanction states, and how they will maintain that new order. said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Democratic strategist and former DNC communications director. “Inevitably, there will be pushback because that’s what happens when there are changes in any match.”
But the re-election of President Joe Biden, if he runs again, could make the process easier, Castro said.
“That helps keep things calmer in 2024 and gives a breathing space for the new process to take hold,” he said. “Everyone recognizes, at some level, that there have to be rules and an order that has to be respected.”