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Campaigns & Elections

The DNC votes to end Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses

 An Iowa caucus precinct in Des Moines on caucus night 2020.
Natalie Krebs
An Iowa caucus precinct in Des Moines on caucus night 2020.

The Democratic National Committee has voted to remove Iowa from the early window of presidential nominating states.

“The ayes have it and the report from the Rules and Bylaws Committee has been adopted!” DNC chair Jamie Harrison said to a round of applause on Saturday at the DNC’s winter meeting held in Philadelphia. The voice vote adopting the calendar signals an end to a half-century of tradition for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.

The approved plan replaces Iowa with South Carolina. The southern state would be followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on the same day, and then Georgia followed by Michigan.

The vote came after three Iowans made the case for members to reconsider the changes to the Democrats’ 2024 presidential nominating calendar.

“[Republicans] feed the narrative that Democrats have turned their backs on Iowa and on rural America,” new Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart told the DNC. “In the coming weeks our state will be flooded with Republican hopefuls spreading this damaging message to every corner of our state.”

Republicans are still planning to go with the traditional order of Iowa, New Hampshire Nevada and South Carolina.

The vote to scrap Iowa was over a year in the making

The disastrous 2020 caucus results where no winner was named on caucus night because of a faulty smartphone app amplified criticisms for Iowa being the lead-off state. The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee spent a year discussing the calendar and had state delegations fly out to Washington D.C. to make their case to be in the early window. Iowa was among 16 states and Puerto Rico to make their case.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee wanted to reward diverse states and favored primary elections instead of caucuses. DNC members also said they wanted states early in the order that would be competitive in the general election.

The Iowa Democratic Party proposed big changes to the caucuses to try and please the group. Caucus-goers would mail in presidential preference cards that would be counted on caucus night, when a winner would be declared.

President Joe Biden issued a letter to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee in early December with the proposed order.

The calendar is not a done deal

Scott Brennan is the only Iowan on the Rules and Bylaws Committee and he’s stood in opposition to the new calendar since it was unveiled. On Saturday, he reminded DNC members that Georgia and New Hampshire have still not complied with changing the date of their primary election to fall in line with the changes.

“We can approve this calendar but we will leave here with absolutely nothing settled,” Brennan said before the vote. “I say this not to attempt to bluster or imply any threat but simply to acknowledge the facts. In 2007, the matter of contest dates and order was not settled until the 11th hour.”

The Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to give Georgia and New Hampshire waivers last month to get in compliance with the new order.

Iowa wasn’t the only state at the DNC meeting that spoke in opposition.

“The DNC is set to punish us despite the fact that we don’t have the ability to unilaterally change state law,” said New Hampshire’s Joanne Dowdell. “This will only hurt President Biden in our purple battleground state.”

Iowa and New Hampshire have state laws that say they have to hold the first contests. Both Iowa and New Hampshire are controlled by Republicans who have no interest in bucking their national party.

The decision comes as Republicans are starting to dip their toe in Iowa

The field of Republican presidential hopefuls has been slow to assemble compared to the 2016 cycle. Former President Donald Trump’s presidential bid announcement following the midterm election seemed to have a chilling effect on candidates.

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is set to announce she’s running for the Republican nomination and will make a trip to Iowa later this month. South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is also planning to speak a fundraiser in late February, hinting at presidential aspirations.

Iowa Democrats say they’ll adhere to state law

The Iowa Democratic Party is sticking with its reimagined caucuses and a “simplified vote-by-mail process that will increase accessibility.”

“When we submit our delegate selection plan to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, we will continue to do what is best for Iowa,” IDP chair Rita Hart said in a statement following the vote. “[To] adhere to any state legal requirements and utilize the vote-by-mail process outlined in our application for an early-state waiver.”

Copyright 2023 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

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Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter. He was part of a team of member station political reporters who covered the 2016 presidential race for NPR. He also covers environmental issues.