Democrats delay decision on replacing Iowa as first to weigh in on presidential contests

Iowa isn’t done fighting to keep its place as the first state have its say in the Democratic presidential election — yet.

The Democratic National Committee will delay its plans to restructure the presidential nominating calendar until after the November midterms, prolonging Iowa’s goal of maintaining its traditional first-in-the-nation caucuses. 

The committee had been slated to make a decision this week at meetings in Washington, D.C. 

“The decision has been deferred,” said Scott Brennan, a Des Moines attorney who serves on the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, the group tasked with setting the calendar. 

A memo from the committee’s leadership outlining the change in plans has also started circulating. 

“Following the midterm elections, we will reconvene to update our evaluation of the applicant pool and work towards a final decision to present to the full DNC for a vote, which DNC leadership has assured us they will make happen as soon after the midterm elections as is possible,” the memo said. 

More:In final plea, Iowa Democrats make the case for first-in-the-nation caucuses to DNC committee

Changes after 2020 debacle:Despite Iowa caucus disaster, U.S. election systems are better than you think. Really.

16 states make pitches to replace Iowa

For years, Iowa has kicked off the presidential nominating process with its first-in-the-nation caucuses, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But in April, the committee approved a plan that stripped those states of their special status and opened an application process allowing any state to request consideration for early voting status.

That change came after Iowa’s disastrous 2020 caucuses that delayed any candidate being named the winner after a debacle with a new app meant to streamline the process. In the aftermath, the state’s Democratic chair resigned and calls grew louder for both the caucus system to be dismantled and for Iowa to lose its place as first to have a say in election con

Sixteen states and Puerto Rico submitted applications and were invited to make public presentations to the committee in Washington, D.C., last month. The committee has met twice since then to weigh which of the states should lead off the nominating process.

Members have discussed a number of changes, including replacing Iowa with a different Midwest state, like Michigan or Minnesota. And they have discussed moving a more diverse state to the front of the line. Some members, arguing that Black voters are the foundation of the party, have said a state like South Carolina, which currently goes fourth, should have its say far earlier in the process.

But there are hurdles to making changes. New Hampshire representatives have argued that replacing their first-in-the-nation primary contest could be harmful to U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s re-election campaign this fall. Making the decision after the midterms could neutralize that argument. 

And postponing the decision could give Democrats in states like Minnesota and Michigan time to work with their state Legislatures and Republican counterparts to approve a change in their primary dates. Committee members have been reluctant to place any state in the early window that can’t logistically or legally hold an early contest. 

It’s very likely Iowa will lose its place at the front of the line, though the state could hold onto a spot elsewhere in the early window. 

More:What does it take to be first? These states want to replace Iowa on the presidential calendar

Democratic President Joe Biden has said he intends to seek a second term in office. But as his approval ratings plummet, some Democrats have begun to openly suggest he should step aside. If a different Democrat chose to compete in 2024, delaying the calendar decision until after the midterms would reduce their window to campaign, whether it’s in Iowa or elsewhere.

Republicans, who will continue to begin their nominating process in Iowa, have been traveling to the Hawkeye State for months ahead of potential 2024 campaigns. 

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement Saturday that he has been assured by DNC Chair Jaime Harrison that the process would be fair, and he reiterated Iowa’s argument for maintaining a place in the early window. 

“I’m committed to fighting for Iowa to maintain its position on the nomination calendar and we will continue to provide information as requested by the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee,” he said. “Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our Democratic Presidential nominating process. We cannot let corporate media and special interest groups replace our strong Democratic grassroots organizations which have been the bedrock of our national general election victories.”

USA Today Reporter Dylan Wells contributed to this report. 

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.