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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

South Carolina set to replace Iowa as first-in-the-nation primary for Democrats

The Palmetto State would be followed by New Hampshire and Nevada under the revised election calendar for 2024.

(CN) — In 1976, a little-known former governor of Georgia was declared the winner of the Iowa Democratic precinct caucuses with a 28% plurality of the vote split among five candidates. Jimmy Carter’s inauspicious presidential campaign got a sudden boost and Iowa’s early quadrennial party caucuses propelled the state to the forefront of the presidential campaign season ever since.

After nearly a half century, however, Iowa’s favored first-in-the-nation status appears to have come to an end.

The Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee, meeting in Washington to set the party’s 2024 presidential nominating calendar, voted overwhelmingly Friday to bump Iowa from the leadoff spot in favor of South Carolina. The committee also voted to have New Hampshire and Nevada jointly vote second, a week after South Carolina, followed by Georgia and Michigan, two battleground states that would round out the top five in subsequent weeks, the Associated Press reported. All the proposed contests would likely be held in February 2024.

Only representatives from Iowa and New Hampshire voted against the proposed change, which will have to be ratified by the full DNC sometime early next year.

In a statement issued before Friday’s decision, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said, “Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process. Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation. I’m proud of the commitment Iowa Democrats have made to advancing diverse Presidential candidates over the years.”

Wilburn pointed out the party is bound by a state law that says Iowa precinct caucuses must be held at least eight days earlier than the earliest scheduled for any other state’s presidential caucus or primary. If the DNC eliminates Iowa’s place on the calendar in 2024, the state’s Democratic Party risks violating the law or having its delegates ignored at the national convention.

Whatever the Democratic Party does with the Iowa caucuses in 2024, the Republican National Committee has vowed to hold its Iowa caucuses in early February 2024.

Friday’s committee recommendation came after President Joe Biden on Thursday urged the party to scrap Iowa’s first-in-the-nation position in favor of South Carolina.

In a letter to the DNC’s rules committee, Biden emphasized the party’s presidential primary process should be open to more minority groups.

“We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” Biden said in the letter. “As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color – and that includes Black, Brown and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters. You should not be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you show working class Americans that you will fight for them and their families.”

In his letter, Biden explicitly stated the Democratic Party should no longer allow caucuses as part of its nominating process.

Like many other states, Iowa has long held annual precinct caucuses to select delegates to county, state, and national conventions. Delegates selected at their precinct caucus in presidential election years nominally support a candidate, but that can change by the time of the national convention.

Iowa’s favored place on the primary calendar has long been criticized because the state’s overwhelmingly white and large rural population does not fairly reflect the nation’s electorate.

The party caucus process has also come under increasing fire because, unlike a primary election run by the state, where all eligible voters are able to cast ballots throughout an early voting period or on Election Day, party caucuses are one-time precinct meetings run by volunteers where electors must openly declare their favored candidate. Iowa has also been criticized for its convoluted system of declaring winners using a mind-numbing delegate-equivalent calculation.

Iowa’s Democratic caucuses got a black eye in 2020 when the results of that year’s precinct caucuses were delayed for weeks due in part to technical glitches, and in the meantime the primary campaigns had moved on to other states. Moreover, the Democratic Party nationally may have soured on Iowa after the state experienced a Republican red wave when the governor, both houses of the legislature, all four members of Congress and all but one statewide office went to the GOP in the 2022 midterm election.

The Hawkeye State's retort to rap for being too white: Barack Obama, who won the caucuses in 2008. And Iowa has long defended its caucuses as offering grassroots politics at their best, where candidates are able to meet individually with voters in Main Street coffee shops and at July 4 parades, unlike campaigning in big states largely limited to TV advertising and huge rallies. And, of course, the caucuses bring a lot of money to the state’s hotels, restaurants and TV networks.

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