Campaign

Five states that could take Iowa’s spot on the early primary calendar

The future of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses was thrown into question in 2020 when a highly public technology failure on the Democratic side caused confusion, distrust and anger among voters and party officials. 

That tipping point came after years of questions about the wisdom of having a largely white, mostly rural state with a quixotic process lead the nominating calendar. 

Fast forward two years, and Democratic National Committee members say Iowa Democrats may not be allowed to go first in 2024 and may not even be included in the list of early contests. That’s prompting jockeying among other states for the chance to be included in the initial lineup, which Democrats are considering expanding to five. 

“The 2024 presidential cycle is not about subtraction, but addition which will create its own momentum,” Donna Brazile, a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee who previously chaired the national party, told The Hill. “By adding an additional state, we would ensure that the candidates will be in a position to talk to more voters, not less.”  

Under any scenario, the other three early voting states — New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — would most likely be safe somewhere on the early roster.

Here are five others who could take Iowa’s place among the states that vote before Super Tuesday, and potentially compete for the coveted first-in-the-nation slot. 

MICHIGAN 

Michigan’s status as a top general election battleground could work to its advantage, some Democrats say. 

It would also satisfy the preference among some in the party for a midwestern replacement to Iowa, while adding racial, geographic and socioeconomic diversity. 

“If we dump somebody, we have to make sure that region is represented,” said one Democrat familiar with the DNC’s early state process, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss ongoing talks.  

“If Iowa is the only one really being threatened, then that means our focus has to be on the Midwest.” 

Michigan’s swingy nature has kept election watchers curious in recent years. They saw President Biden flip it back to blue after former President Trump narrowly defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose loss there helped hand the White House to Republicans. 

The Democratic primaries are arguably just as unpredictable. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.Vt.) won over Clinton in 2016, but four years later Biden captured the state’s primary by a wide margin over the Vermont independent. 

For all the hype, however, Democrats are already warning about a potential hiccup: it’s an open question whether the state legislature will allow for a change from its original date in mid-March to earlier in the process.  

MINNESOTA 

Minnesota is also thought to want an earlier spot, with its populist and independent streaks making it another important midwestern contest worth watching. 

In 2020, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made a pitch that she could appeal to people in bigger cities like Minneapolis, while also grabbing votes in the Twin Cities suburbs and rural areas. She argued that the party needed to do all of that to expand its gains in future elections.  

Klobuchar, a close Biden ally and a fellow moderate, was considered as a prospective vice presidential nominee for some of those reasons. The senator went on to place an unexpected third in the New Hampshire primary, an indication that her message resonated in some other pockets of the country with similar geography. 

The publicity Minnesota received around criminal justice reform, a major party priority, after Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) secured the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s murder, could further bolster its case. 

NEW JERSEY 

Democrats in New Jersey also want to be added to the early schedule, pointing to the vast variety of people who call the Garden State home.  

They believe its relatively small physical size will help preserve the retail politics component that’s sacred during the primary process, while opening up a northeastern state for consideration that looks different from New Hampshire. 

“New Jersey is truly a microcosm of the nation,” said Leroy Jones, the state party chairman, calling it a “perfect choice.” 

In making his eventual case to the rules committee, Jones said plans to emphasize the state’s “racial, economic and geographic diversity, its compact size that cuts down on travel time and expenses, its high levels of union membership and its demonstrated commitment to opening up democracy and helping more people participate in our elections.”  

Some leading members of Congress also support moving it up the calendar. 

“With all that Jersey has to offer, it would be great to move the Garden State up as an early presidential primary state,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a prominent moderate who has risen in profile during the Biden administration, said in a tweet late last month.  

ARIZONA 

Biden’s unexpected presidential win in Arizona has put the state on the radar in a way Democrats didn’t expect.  

For months, the Biden campaign worked to turn the purple state blue to help him knock out Trump, pouring significant resources and manpower to achieve that goal. 

When it worked, some in the party wondered if it could play a larger role in future nominating contests. 

Arizona has a substantial population of Latino voters, who Democrats see as a valuable and diverse bloc that could turn out against a GOP nominee, including Trump if he decides to run again in 2024.  

If Biden – or any Democrat seeking the nomination – spends ample time campaigning there during the primary, the thinking goes, the more likely they are to have a strong chance to beat a Republican rival in the fall.  

WASHINGTON 

State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski is openly campaigning to move the state up, touting its “broad diversity” in traditionally underrepresented communities like Asian American and Pacific Islanders and Latino residents and members of over two dozen indigenous tribes.  

“There’s a reason every major presidential candidate spent time in Washington in 2020 after we moved our primary from May to March,” Podlodowski said. “Our state mirrors the Democratic Party.” 

Washington Democrats have consistently prioritized climate change to encourage national Democrats to follow suit. In the next presidential cycle, the issue could inspire primary voters and activists who have called on the Biden administration to do more to address environmental injustices. 

Some Democrats on the ground also see an opening for a broader democracy issue to take the spotlight against the GOP: the state’s widely used vote-by-mail practice.

“Our all-mail voting system also has a history of high turnout and well-run elections, which will serve to remind the nation what Democrats are good at: voting,” Podlodowski said. 

EARLY TRIO: NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEVADA, SOUTH CAROLINA  

Insiders believe the remaining trio of early states is likely to be kept intact, and that any of the three could move even further up the calendar.  

New Hampshire is thought to be in contention for that. It’s a primary instead of a caucus, it’s small and easy to canvas, and it’s a swing state with important Senate implications in 2022.  

In the 2024 general election, if Biden is the Democratic nominee, he would theoretically benefit from having traveled there during his first term. The president has already made trips to the state, including a stop this week to Portsmouth where he met with Democrats and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

 If Biden decides not to run — a scenario the White House has given no indication will happen — or is challenged from the left, things get more interesting. New Hampshire voters are known for picking wildcards. In 2016 and 2020, the Granite State opted for Sanders over his more moderate competitors, leaving room for a potential progressive candidate to edge out a win next time. 

Other Democrats see Nevada, which like Arizona boasts a sizable Latino population, as the natural successor to take Iowa’s place as first. 

“I think it would not only be a strong move, but a smart move,” said Chuck Rocha, a top Democratic operative and former senior adviser on Sanders’ 2020 campaign. He said Nevada would “better reflect our party than Iowa.” 

“With Latino voters becoming the most coveted persuasion electorate, it’s another strong case,” he added.  

But recent polls suggest a snag for the incumbent president: Biden’s approval rating with Latino voters is lagging. A new survey taken by Quinnipiac University shows just 26 percent support his actions as president, an area Democrats widely believe he needs to improve ahead of the next two elections. 

There’s also a move to bump South Carolina to first place, especially after Black voters, guided by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), elevated the then-struggling Biden to become the party’s nominee after a poor finish in the earlier contests.

One well-placed operative in the Palmetto State said it was “hard to say” if Democrats there would angle for the first slot, if at all. For now, many are happy to be considered safe from the chopping block. “First in the South for sure,” the source said. 

But asked how serious Democrats are about replacing Iowa with somewhere more racially diverse, the answer became more definitive: “Really serious I think.” 

Tags Amy Klobuchar Arizona Bernie Sanders Democratic National Committee DNC Donna Brazile early primaries Hillary Clinton Iowa Josh Gottheimer Michigan Minnesota Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey nominating contest calendar primary calendar South Carolina Trump Washington

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