116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A parade of states told the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee this past week that they could spice up the party’s threadbare nominating calendar with a much needed shot of new enthusiasm and diversity. The word “diversity” was uttered so many times it was impossible to tally.
We’re the future of the Democratic Party, said representatives from states such as Nevada, Washington and Georgia. Heck, even that old woebegone hot dish to our north marched into the meeting with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blasting.
Iowa, well, its delegation valiantly tried to defend tradition, namely Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Democratic caucuses. They’ve proposed important changes to make the caucuses more accessible. Gone are the goofy preference groups and the need to be present on caucus night. Welcome presidential “preference cards” that can be dropped in the mail.
Ope! Sorry about 2020, but we’re just trying to convince you our new and improved ranch dressing can be pretty zippy, too.
Will it work? Maybe. Probably not.
But you’ve got to try, right? Iowa’s Democratic Party is on the ropes. Losing the caucuses would deny Iowa Democrats the engagement, enthusiasm, party-building, bucks and organizational advantages the caucuses bring. Iowa’s Republican caucuses will continue to go first, providing an even bigger advantage to a party that basically runs the state. The stakes are very high.
I mean, just consider the state’s giant flag and political hay bale industries, the tractor polishers and rustic barn owners. And we’ve stocked up on almond milk for homesick coastal elites.
So they tried. State Rep. Ross Wilburn, the state party’s first Black chairman, Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst and former state party chair Scott Brennan, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, made the case before a polite but clearly skeptical audience.
They showed a video full of diverse faces, including gubernatorial nominee Deidre DeJear, telling the committee how the caucuses inspired them to get into politics and run for public office. They talked of the importance of a process that pushes candidates to look voters in the eye and answer direct questions about issues facing many Americans. There was a mention of big city mayors flipping pork chops at the State Fair while listening to the concerns of Iowans.
Underdog candidates can still do well in Iowa, with its inexpensive media markets and emphasis on retail campaigning. Ever heard of some guy named Obama?
Wilburn argued Iowa is more diverse than it seems at first glance, pointing to, for instance, enrollment at some of the state’s largest school districts. The Des Moines School District is 34 percent white, with 49 percent of students Black or Latino. This is Iowa’s future, he said.
Konfrst argued that Iowa is more competitive for Democrats than it looks, with three of four congressional districts that can go either way on election night.
“Iowa is a competitive state,” Konfrst said, repeatedly.
Brennan explained how Iowa Democrats will be able to vote by mail using presidential preference cards in the weeks before the caucuses, with results announced on caucus night. That makes the process more accessible than a three-hour, in-person political meeting. It will broaden and diversify participation. Caucus night will still include a gathering to elect precinct delegates, but no coin flips.
“No more caucus math,” Brennan said to knowing chuckles. Who did win the 2020 caucuses, anyway?
But the new system seemed to create more questions and confusion than accolades from the committee.
Will delegate shares adhere to the candidate preferences? Yes, Iowa’s backers said.
This sounds a lot like a primary. Have you talked it over with New Hampshire? No.
Iowa has trended decidedly red in the last two presidential elections. Are you sure it’s competitive? Yep, still purple in many ways. Konfrst said she’s been told the Iowa Democratic Party is in the desert, “but I can see the water from here.”
What about Iowa’s state law requiring its caucuses to go first? What if the Democratic National Committee changes the calendar?
“We intend to remain first,” Brennan said.
On Wednesday, the committee discussed sanctions that would be aimed at states that flout national party rules and candidates who choose to campaign in them, or even if their name simply appears on the ballot. They seem serious.
So are all the other states battling for an early slot. On Wednesday, Nevada appeared to impress the committee with its well-crafted presentation. Its representatives touted Nevada’s diversity, its status as a presidential battleground state, large union membership and its inexpensive media markets. And what happens in Vegas … well, you know.
“Tradition is not a good enough reason to preserve the status quo,” one Nevada booster said. Ouch.
Another urged the party to look to its future, not get “stuck in the past.” Double ouch.
“We’re ready to be first,” the Nevada delegation proclaimed.
Ope! Sorry Iowa, we’re just trying to take your spot. You can keep your ranch.
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