Iowa Democrats have already been stripped of their place at the front of the 2024 presidential contest line by President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. Now their efforts to meet DNC demands could result in New Hampshire truly becoming the ‘First in the Nation’ contest.
In a desperate attempt to avoid getting booted out of first place by the DNC, Iowa Democrats proposed changing their complex and cumbersome caucus process to a mail participation system. It didn’t work.
With a push from Biden, the DNC dumped Iowa, moved South Carolina to the first slot, and moved New Hampshire to a second-place tie with Nevada. But Hawkeye State Democrats have continued to press for their changes, creating a potential conflict with the Granite State.
New Hampshire Democrats and Republicans have made it clear they will ignore the DNC and hold its primary “at least seven days before any similar contest,” as state law requires. But Iowa could also run afoul of New Hampshire’s law if it presses ahead with a remote participation caucus that works very much like a primary.
New Hampshire GOP Chairman Chris Ager released an email Wednesday that he received from Secretary of State David Scanlan, who, by New Hampshire state law, has the power to set the primary date.
“Any change of caucus format in Iowa that moves in the direction of a primary election, including the use of mail-in or absentee ballots, will trigger New Hampshire’s law protecting our first presidential primary position,” Scanlan wrote. It echoed warnings Scanlan has made in the past.
Ager added, “If Iowa Democrats move to primary balloting vs. a caucus, New Hampshire would move our primary ahead of that date.”
Iowa Republicans are taking steps to protect the status quo. On Wednesday, a GOP-controlled House committee in Des Moines advanced a bill mandating precinct caucuses to be conducted in person.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds supports the effort to keep the current caucus system and avoid a fight with the Granite State.
“The Iowa Democrat Party is unwilling to accept that their changes, an all-mail-in system of ballots, are by definition a primary and not a caucus. Because of this, our coveted status as first in the nation is in jeopardy,” Reynolds said in a statement.
Some Iowa Democrats remain unpersuaded and continue to push for a more “inclusive” caucus.
Iowa Democrat Rep. Amy Nielsen argued her party made the changes not just to appease the DNC but to address issues of fairness and inclusion. Forcing people to show up on a weeknight is a hardship for those who work at night, have transportation issues, or are parents of young children who need childcare. She also echoed the feeling of Iowa Democrats that they should make the rules they want — not the DNC or New Hampshire.
“It is a party event, and the parties have the right to decide who gets to show up,” Nielsen said. “I think we also have the right to decide how we run them. So I don’t think that allowing some remote access to our caucuses is creating a primary; what it’s doing is opening up access.”
But the issue isn’t what Iowa Democrats think, Republican legislators reminded them. The only thing that matters is what the New Hampshire Secretary of State thinks.
For decades, Iowa has held the first contest of the presidential nomination process, a series of caucuses that required participants to go to a school gymnasium or church basement to show their preference. That allowed New Hampshire to meet its legal requirements to hold the nation’s first primary.
However, Iowa’s caucus process has suffered dramatic — and embarrassing — failures in recent years. In 2012, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum actually won the January 3 GOP caucus, but eventual nominee Mitt Romney was incorrectly declared the winner. The accurate result wasn’t reported until January 21.
And in 2020, the Iowa Democrats’ caucus was such a disaster the Associated Press never declared a winner.
Ironically, the Iowa Democrats’ Chair hounded out of his job after the caucus fiasco, Troy Price, was hired in New Hampshire by party chairman Ray Buckley as the NHDems Executive Director.
The Democrats’ Iowa problems could solve themselves. It’s possible Biden will be his party’s nominee, and no one will mount a serious challenge in the caucuses. And with Republicans firmly in control of Iowa state government, it’s highly unlikely the state would make a change that disturbs the GOP equilibrium.
That’s what Ager is hoping for, he told NHJournal.
“We support Iowa as the First-In-The-Nation caucus, and we support Iowa Republicans’ efforts to keep it that way.”
Last month, NHJournal asked Scanlan about reports Iowa might tweak its caucus rules so much it could create a conflict. Scanlan said they were just “rumors” at the time, but they’d gotten his attention.
“Our law says our primary shall be conducted at least seven days before a similar event. We will be watching what the Iowa Democrats do very closely,” Scanlan said.
He’s still watching.