DES MOINES — To say it was not a typical national political convention would be an understatement along the lines of saying a little storm passed through Iowa a couple of weeks ago.
The 2020 Democratic National Convention wrapped up Thursday night, not really in Milwaukee — the intended host site for the four days of festivities — but mostly on computer and TV screens across Iowa and the nation.
The new coronavirus pandemic prevented the convention from operating as it normally would, with thousands of Democrats packed into stadiums and hotels to hear from keynote speakers and conduct party business.
Instead, convention business was conducted largely online through video conference calls, and speakers addressed primarily television audiences.
It was the first national convention for Mark Smith, the newly elected Iowa Democratic Party chairman.
“I would have liked to have gone in person. But I felt that safety was more important, so I agreed with the decision,” Smith, a longtime state lawmaker from Marshalltown, said Friday. “And then I thought they did an incredible job of orchestrating, and making sure everything went well.”
Not all the reviews were five-star. As the Iowa delegates to the national convention met for the final time Thursday evening via video conference call, Sandy Opstvedt, of Ames, described the frenzy of trying to participate in as many convention meetings as possible.
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“I have never been so wiped out in my life, trying to be on three or four meetings at the same time,” said Opstvedt, who was a superdelegate at the 2016 national convention. “It’s just too much. I hope we never have to go back to this again.
“But,” Opstvedt added, “they did a good job pulling it off.”
Some of the new-look convention’s moments seemed like potential improvements over the traditional format, including the states’ roll call coming in the form of videos recorded on location across the country.
Smith said he could foresee some of the convention changes becoming permanent, regardless of whether the 2024 convention faces similar public health challenges.
“My best guess is that there will be some things changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith said. “I’m guessing that there will be changes. To what degree, I think it’s too early to tell.”
Smith said the Iowa caucuses’ first-in-the-nation status was not formally discussed during the convention, to his knowledge.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Smith said.
Iowa’s prime position came under fire once more as national party chairman Tom Perez throughout the week iterated his opinion that Democrats should eliminate caucuses and only hold primary elections during their presidential nominating process. Perez sidestepped questions about whether he feels Iowa should be removed as the first state in the nominating process.
“I issued a statement last week that I continue to believe that the Iowa caucuses should be first and should continue in the format that they are,” Smith said. “I will continue to press for the Iowa caucuses to remain first in the nation.”
Iowa’s leadoff position once again is in question in part because during the 2020 caucuses a computer program designed to tabulate statewide results failed on caucus night. It took the party nearly a month to tally and recount the results. Because the final results were so narrow and some precincts remained in question, media organizations declined to declare a winner.
The state party pledged an independent investigation into what went awry with the caucuses and the reporting program.
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Smith said Friday the report still is forthcoming, while conceding he made a similar pledge four weeks ago on Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press.”
“I think it’s just something that takes a long period of time to analyze all of the information,” Smith said Friday.