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Iowa Democrats make new pitch for early caucuses after New Hampshire, Georgia miss deadline
Iowa Democrats made a new pitch to have the Iowa caucuses remain in the lineup of early states that kick off the presidential nominating process.
Outgoing Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn sent a letter Friday to Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison and co-chairs of the DNC's rules committee requesting it vote next month to grant Iowa a conditional waiver to be among the slate of five early nominating states after New Hampshire and Georgia failed to meet a deadline proving they have buy-in from state leaders to change the dates of their primaries.
The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted last month on a new calendar for its presidential nominating process. Committee members voted to grant conditional waivers to South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan to hold their presidential primaries ahead of the rest of the country, stripping Iowa of its first-in-the-nation status and moving it out of the early window entirely in favor of more diverse battleground states.
Republicans already agreed to keep Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses for GOP candidates — and several Republicans already have been to the state to weigh the possibility of presidential runs.
Iowa’s caucuses have led the pack in presidential preference contests since 1972, drawing media attention and millions of dollars in campaigning from presidential hopefuls.
Under the proposed 2024 calendar — which still needs to be formally ratified by the full DNC early next month — South Carolina would go first, holding its primary on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.
The waivers required state party officials to submit letters to the committee by Jan. 5 showing they have buy-in from state leaders to change the dates of their primaries. New Hampshire also was required to show that state politicians were working to expand early voting access.
New Hampshire law mandates Granite State Democrats to hold their primary a week before any other state in the nation. Repealing or changing the state’s elections laws is “unrealistic and unattainable” with a Republican-controlled legislature and GOP governor unwilling to change their date or current voter access laws, New Hampshire Democrats wrote in a letter to the DNC rules committee.
Georgia’s primary date is set by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whose office has said it will neither hold two separate primaries nor hold the primary at a time that could cost one party delegates or violate the rules of either party. Moving the state’s primary to Feb. 13 would run afoul of GOP rules.
Because of that, Wilburn urged the rules committee look at other options and consider granting Iowa a conditional waiver at its February meeting in Philadelphia.
Wilburn, who announced last month he will not seek another term as leader of the state party, emphasized that Iowa Democrats would be willing and able to adapt its caucuses to the committee's preferences, rather than relying on state legislators to make changes.
"As a state party-run contest, we retain the ultimate ability to tailor our contest to RBC rules and specifications and maintain a flexibility that states with state-run contests cannot," he wrote.
Wilburn, in his letter, highlighted changes Iowa Democrats proposed to the caucus process to increase participation and accessibility, and give Iowa the flexibility to change the date of its contest while complying with state law and work within the wider calendar framework.
In its bid to remain in the early nominating window, the Iowa Democratic Party proposed an overhaul of the caucuses that would allow Democrats to express their preference for president by mail ahead of the precinct caucuses.
On the night of the caucuses, Democrats would announce the results of the early vote and conduct the regular party-organizing business of the caucuses.
National Democrats soured on Iowa following a chaotic 2020 caucus night for Iowa Democrats when a smartphone app — meant to make reporting results easier — failed. As a result, the official Democratic caucus results were not reported for several weeks.
The debacle compounded existing concerns about Iowa's lack of racial diversity and barriers to participation, requiring in-person participation.
Wilburn, too, noted Iowa Republicans have seized on the opportunity to “double down” on their caucuses “and feed the narrative that Democrats have turned their back on Iowa and rural America.”
“Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation,” he wrote to DNC officials.
Rules committee leaders, however, said they want to give New Hampshire and Georgia more time to meet waiver requirements.
"As you know, we expected both the New Hampshire and Georgia efforts to be complicated but well worth the effort if we can get them done," DNC rules committee co-chairs Jim Roosevelt Jr. and Minyon Moore wrote in a memo to members Thursday. "We remain committed to doing all we can to see our plan through. … This calendar does what is long overdue and brings more voices into the early window process.“
Scott Brennan, the only Iowan on the DNC rules committee, said Iowa Democrats “stand ready, willing and able to fill in” for New Hampshire and Georgia.
Brennan said he expects the committee will discuss Wilburn’s request at its February meeting, but meet virtually in the meantime in the next couple of weeks to discuss granting a deadline extension for New Hampshire and Georgia.
Wilburn added: "It's clear not every state granted a waiver last month was able to meet the deadline for submitting letters of intent indicating their compliance with the DNC's conditions for early states.
“This means discussions surrounding the presidential nominating calendar are very much ongoing,” he said. “Iowa will be a part of those conversations as we proceed."
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