Press: Oh, the joy of dumping Iowa
Notice anything different about members of the Washington press corps lately?
A big smile on their faces? A little bounce in their step? There’s a good reason why. In what many reporters will remember as the single most significant accomplishment of his presidency, President Biden has ended Iowa’s 50-year reign as the first stop in the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process.
I exaggerate, of course, but only a little.
For too many years, we’ve frozen our butts off, tromping through the cold and snow of Iowa and talking to too many self-important Iowa voters — who, famously, refuse to decide whom they’ll vote for until they’ve shaken hands with each candidate at least five times. Then sitting through endless party caucuses, where only a relative handful of voters, those who have five hours or more to spare, get to decide whom voters in that small, predominantly white state want to lead the Democratic ticket — a privilege which, after all that time and all that money, usually lasts no longer than it takes the candidates to fly to New Hampshire.
Following Biden’s lead, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted last week to adopt a new presidential primary calendar that would bypass Iowa and, instead, begin in South Carolina on Feb. 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27. That plan must be approved by the full DNC in early February, and, with Biden’s support, no doubt will be.
It’s true, as some have suggested, that Biden may have only done this out of revenge. Iowa’s never been good to him. He came in fourth place in 2020, behind Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Or he may have done it for selfish reasons: to repay South Carolina for saving his campaign in 2020 and pave the way for another Palmetto State win in 2024. Who cares? We reporters don’t care why he did it, we’re just glad he did. We’d much rather spend December and January in South Carolina than Iowa. It’s warmer, it’s closer and it’s on the coast.
But there are more serious reasons for dumping Iowa. First and most importantly, because Iowa is not demographically representative of America. According to the 2020 census, Iowa is 84 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Black and 3 percent Asian.
As a whole, the Unites States is much more racially diverse: 59 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Black and 6 percent Asian. The issues that reverberate in Iowa are not necessarily the issues that count nationwide.
Which is one of the main reasons why Iowa has such a horrible track record of picking winners. Since 1972, only Bill Clinton and Barack Obama went on to win the White House after winning the Iowa Democratic caucuses. Other Democratic winners include “Presidents” Ed Muskie, Walter Mondale, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Pete Buttigieg. Among Republican “Presidents,” count Bob Dole, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.
And then there are all the problems with the caucuses themselves, which are fundamentally undemocratic. Only those who show up at the caucuses with five hours or more to spare can vote. That excludes many people in the military, many people with disabilities and many working moms and dads. Also, there is no secret ballot, which is a fundamental democratic principle. Iowa Democrats screwed up the caucuses so badly in 2020 that it took six days before the final tally was announced.
It’s long past time Democrats quit Iowa. Good for Biden for doing so.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”