Nevada is seeking to become the first contest in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary, nudging ahead of the traditional proving grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Democrats in Nevada have introduced legislation to switch their state's contest from a caucus to a primary, and to make it the nation's first.
Iowa and New Hampshire, meanwhile, are seeking to defend their long-held statuses as the first two contests on the primary calendar.
The jostling comes as a growing number of Democrats question why a party propelled by the voices of minority voters gives such weight in its presidential primary to two states that are overwhelmingly white.
It also follows a 2020 contest where President BidenJoe BidenMarcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously GOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors MORE performed miserably in those states, only to completely turn his campaign around once the contest moved to more diverse states — including Nevada, where Biden finished a distant second to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan Sanders urges Biden to delay Medicare premium hike linked to Alzheimer's drug MORE (I-Vt.).
South Carolina, another state that Democrats say should move further up the primary calendar, handed Biden a 30-point victory and is widely seen as a turning point in his campaign.
“This last election cycle has demonstrated the net worth of not just Nevada and South Carolina, but the net worth of two of the fastest growing and perhaps, consequential voting blocs in the country, black and brown voters,” said South Carolina-based Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.
The idea to make Nevada a first-in-the-nation primary state gained some traction last month after the state House Speaker Jason Frierson (D) introduced legislation that would shift the state's primary to the Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January. The move would bump Iowa and New Hampshire to the second and third spots, respectively.
Additionally, the bill would replace Nevada’s caucus system with a primary. Democrats have been growing increasingly skeptical of caucuses as a method for choosing presidential nominees, a concern that was exacerbated last year when the Iowa Caucuses were plagued with embarrassing technical difficulties that delayed results. Proponents of a primary system also argue that the process is more inclusive and allows more people to participate.
“After the last cycle, we saw such an increase in participation that it was apparent more people could participate and have their voices heard in a primary versus a caucus,” Frierson told The Hill. “With a caucus process, you spend half a day to a full day that not everyone has the ability to give up a day for.”
Frierson added that he’s seen some Republican support for the idea, but stopped short of calling it a bipartisan effort.
The idea has gotten a thumbs up from some big name Democrats including Nevada political giant and former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE, as well as former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE.
"I have a lot of confidence in Nevada. A really, really strong party," former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told CNN last month. "We have gone to school on the lessons of Iowa. We're as low-tech as humanly possible while still preserving efficiency."
It’s not clear, however, if current national Democratic leaders would sign off on the change. White House press secretary Jen Psaski addressed the issue in a briefing last month, saying it was “too soon” to discuss it, but jokingly adding “Nevada is a little warmer.”
“Obviously the DNC is aware. I think it’s incumbent that we would try to work together and make our case that Nevada is worthwhile,” Frierson said.
But Republicans and Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire are signaling that the idea is far from becoming reality. They argue this isn’t the first time other states have floated the idea of leap frogging them in the presidential nominating calendar – and that it rarely goes well.
“This is something we see every four years,” said veteran Iowa Republican strategist David Kochel. “It’s a very difficult thing to move ahead of us because we will react and jump in front of them.”
Iowa and New Hampshire loyalists also point to their track records in raising the profiles of some of the most influential figures in politics, including former President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), regardless of whether they won the states.
“New Hampshire never wanted to be the decider of who the nominee is, what we are is the filter,” said Ray Buckley, the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
“We also offer the opportunity for individuals that wouldn’t necessarily be able to catch on in a larger state or a state [that] is so enamored with some of the candidates that they really wouldn’t go through and have the tough conversations that folks get in the living rooms of New Hampshire,” he said.
When asked about the lack of racial diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire, Democrats from the states argue that Nevada and South Carolina come early enough in the process that their diverse populations already have major impacts on presidential primaries.
Others argue that the voices of the minority populations in Iowa and New Hampshire should not be pushed aside just because the states are majority white.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn, the first Black Iowan to lead the state’s party, noted that the issues impacting other Iowans of color are the same issues impacting people of color across the country.
“Those issues are present here in terms of overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, in terms of challenges with getting jobs and the coronavirus, the disparate impact on communities of color,” Wilburn said. “If we can as a party get Democrats elected and make positive policy changes across Iowa, then we can do it across the country.”
Strategists from the states point to the success of Obama, who won Iowa and lost New Hampshire by only 3 points in 2008, propelling him to the presidency.
“A larger percentage of our population is white and it didn’t stop Iowa Democrats from launching the first African American president’s campaign in 2008,” Kochel said.
Proponents of keeping the primary calendar as it is also say that Iowa and New Hampshire bring other kinds of diversity to the table.
“Diversity is also about economic diversity as well,” said longtime New Hampshire GOP strategist Jim Merrill. “In New Hampshire you have that, and if you talk to folks up here, you see a rapidly diversifying population up here.”
As a caucus state, Iowa does not require legislation to change the date of their contests, and has occasionally moved its caucuses earlier to outflank other states. In New Hampshire officials have made it clear they will follow state law that calls for its presidential primary to be held at least seven days before any sort of “similar election.”
“Our law also says that in order to preserve the tradition of the primary, if we have to move it earlier, if a state has a similar election, we will go seven or more days ahead of that state,” New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner told WMUR last month.