- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 1, 2022

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in Democratic presidential nomination contests is hanging by a thread.

Nevada is seeking to usurp New Hampshire’s role as the first-in-the-nation primary. South Carolina’s standing as the first marquee test of support from Black voters is in jeopardy with the more populous Michigan looking to jump the line.

President Biden weighed in Thursday evening, saying that the party should move past “restrictive” caucuses and de facto pushed South Carolina as the first-in-the-nation primary.

In a letter to the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee reported by the Associated Press and other news outlets, Mr. Biden notes that Black voters “have been the backbone of the Democratic Party” and says it’s “time to stop taking these voters for granted.”

Citing “two people familiar with the situation,” the Associated Press reported that the DNC panel likely will replace the Iowa caucuses with South Carolina’s primary as the first contest of the 2024 cycle.

Mr. Biden did not specify South Carolina or any other state, but the state’s Democratic-primary electorate is mostly Black, while Iowa and New Hampshire, the latter of which traditionally holds the nation’s first primary, are both among the Whitest states in the union.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is making the case that it should replace Iowa as the gateway to the Midwest — not Michigan. The move sets up a showdown that could dramatically alter the path to the party’s presidential nod.

These are some of the battles embroiling the Rules and Bylaws Committee at three days of meeting beginning Thursday in Washington to reshuffle the party’s presidential nomination calendar.

As one member of the committee put it, describing the situation as “a soap opera would be generous.”

“Cluster—— is probably the most accurate term,” the committee member said.

Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and a rules committee member, said he anticipates the committee will weigh in on the jousting between New Hampshire and Nevada over the first-in-the-nation primary, Iowa’s hopes of staying in the early state mix, and the battle between Minnesota and Michigan to become the Iowa alternative.

“Right now, most of the conversation, I would say all the conversation, has been around Minnesota or Michigan, which of those two states makes the most sense?” Mr. Martin said. “And I would say, you know, at this point, it certainly seems to be equally divided in terms of where people are coming down on that question.”

Democrats in Michigan and Minnesota say their stronger-than-expected results in the midterm races strengthen their arguments, while the struggles of Iowa Democrats put them on the defensive.

After Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa lost her reelection bid to Republican Zach Nunn on Nov. 8, the state next year will not have any Democrats in Congress.

Mr. Martin said it certainly seems as if the committee is leaning toward stripping the opening slot from Iowa.

“But again, you know, we have yet to hear from other party leaders, including the president on this,” he said. “And, you know, the president and others are going to have a significant say in what this calendar ultimately looks like.”

Scott Brennan, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee from Iowa, said the situation is foggy and fluid.

“There is just a complete lack of clarity in what is before the committee at this point.,” Mr. Brennan said. “We have multiple states that have strong pitches to be first, there is no clarity as to which one will end up first, and there is no clarity as to the four or five states that are going to be in the pre-window.”

After the 2020 Iowa caucus, calls for change shifted into overdrive.

The DNC’s rules and bylaws committed adopted a resolution in the spring forcing the traditional early states to compete with others for the opening spots on the nomination calendar.

The resolution emphasized a state’s ethnic, geographic, and economic diversity, its competitiveness in the general election, and its ability to run a fair and transparent contest.

It set off a free for all among states, and an intense round of jockeying from elected officials and party activists.

Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan is lobbying hard for her home state to move up the calendar.

“We are a purple state in the middle of the country that reflects the true diversity of the country,” Mrs. Dingell told The Washington Times. “We have rural areas. We have urban areas.” 

“We have manufacturing, we have farming, we have educators,” she said. “We are a true purple state.”

Mr. Martin, however, said Minnesota checks more boxes.

“On every leading indicator, whether it’s a strong union state, whether it’s diversity, whether it’s turnout, and participating in this process, whether it’s the cost to compete there, Minnesota is the best alternative if you’re trying to get rid of Iowa,” he said.

There have been some concerns raised behind the scenes that Michigan could steal some of South Carolina’s thunder as the testing ground for the Black vote because the number of delegates the state rewards eclipse the other states in the mix. That could encourage candidates to spend most of their time there, and give an edge to better-funded candidates.

“We have always put in the pre-window calendar smaller states, and we’ve done that for good reasons,” Carol Fowler, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee from South Carolina, told The Washington Post last week. “If Michigan had been in an early state, I’m not sure President Carter would have ever been president. I think Barack Obama benefited from having small states up front. I think it’s so helpful for a good strong candidate who is not well-funded yet.”

The rules committee hoped to provide a recommendation to the full DNC earlier this year. 

But they pushed off the deadline due to concerns that announcing changes could hurt some states in the midterm elections.

• Mica Soellner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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