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National Democrats begin talks to potentially rework the presidential nominating calendar and knock Iowa out of being first in line

The Iowa Democrats' app contributed to the failure to transmit caucus results.
Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo
In 2020, Iowa Democrats' new app contributed to the failure to transmit caucus results.

National Democrats who set the presidential primary calendar have officially started conversations that could knock Iowa from its first-in-the-nation position or add other early states. The Democratic National Committee held its winter meeting in Washington D.C. last week, where the calendar was discussed.

“I know the rumor mill has started swirling,” DNC chair Jaime Harrison said while laughing and working to calm nerves in the room as the Rules and Bylaws committee started its Friday evening meeting in Washington. “We’ve probably even got some press in here right now and it's putting folks a bit on edge coming into today's meeting.”

Harrison was referring to an article the Des Moines Register broke that morningabout leaders on this committee drafting a proposal that could significantly change the nominating calendar. It would require states to apply to hold their contests before the rest of the country. It expands the number of early voting states to as many as five. Harrison pointed out the nominating calendar is discussed every four years.

“Our party is best when we reflect the people we are trying to serve. This process will be guided by that North star.” Harrison said. “It will be open, it will be accessible and it will reflect the diverse voices that make our party strong.”

Committee member Mo Elleithee has been a strong advocate in changing the calendar to favor primaries over caucuses, states that are more diverse and politically competitive. He told the committee on Friday that he’s heard that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire take the process very seriously.

“I think there are people who live in 48 other states who also take their roles very seriously, and would love to have the opportunity to be taken seriously to have their voices heard earlier in the process,” he said.

He said the status quo is not an option and that he could see New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all making a case to still go early.

“I have a harder time seeing it with Iowa, but Iowa should have the right to make that case to us,” Elleithee said. “Prove me wrong.”

The proposal to change the calendar was not brought forward during the meeting and was referred to as a “working document.” Former Iowa Democratic Party chair Scott Brennan also serves on this committee. He said he felt like he was “whipsawed” by members because they hadn’t publicly discussed the ideas within the proposal.

“Let's talk about success. Before early state process, we elected Barack Obama twice. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote overwhelmingly but for the electoral college, she would have served as president. And we elected Joe Biden,” Brennan said. “The four early state process worked. I would like us as Democrats to focus on winning elections, not academic exercises.”

The Iowa Democratic Party has said they will work to keep the Iowa caucuses first, even whilesome in their party say it’s time to end the 50-year-tradition. While Democrats in D.C. on Friday night were talking about the calendar, back in Iowa, the process of possible presidential candidates testing the waters was on full display for the Republicans. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was speaking at a fundraiser in Davenport.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) speaks with Iowa Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann at a state party fundraiser at the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa on March 11, 2022.
Clay Masters
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) speaks with Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann at a state party fundraiser at the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport.

Former Iowa Gov. and U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad joined Pompeo for a foreign policy discussion moderated by Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann. He leads the committee tasked with recommending the dates and order of 2024’s Republican presidential nominating calendar. Kaufmann’s committee passed a report that he will submit to Republican National Committee this week that keeps the early states in their traditional order for his party.

“I believe we are going to continue. I want to do it with my Democratic colleagues and I stand with them. “If California, New York win that argument, the Republican National Committee I believe will say loud and clear that Middle America: 'you matter.'”

As for the Democrats, the DNC ended their meeting without taking any formal action and leaders pledged transparency as they plan to hold monthly meetings through the summer. They will also host three listening sessions to let Democrats across the country weigh in.

“I have been assured that it's going to be a fair and open process," Brennan told Iowa Public Radio in an interview Friday evening after the meeting. "I take everyone at their word that that is going to be the case.”

IPR News Iowa Politics
Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.