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  • Allon Advocacy

Goodbye, Iowa?

The 2022 midterms may have just ended, but the 2024 election cycle has already begun.

If speculation about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ White House ambitions — and Donald Trump’s actual entry into the race — were not enough to convince you that the 2024 presidential election is underway, we give you the partial proposed 2024 Democratic primary calendar.

The party released the names of the states that it prefers to go first in the 2024 presidential nominating process last week, less than three weeks after voters went to the polls for the midterm elections.

Normally, this news would not really be news, but for the first time in decades, the party has kept Iowa out of the mix. Additionally, the new calendar (and the process that lead to it) clearly indicates sitting President Joe Biden is seriously considering a second run — there has been considerable speculation he would step aside since he is already the oldest sitting president in U.S. history — and that the Democratic National Committee (if not the party rank and file) will be behind him if he does.

Why did Democrats change the calendar and what does it all mean? Let’s take a look.

Democrats Cast Iowa Aside

On December 2, the Democratic National Committee’s Rules Committee approved a proposal to reorder the party’s early presidential primary calendar. (It did not offer dates for each and every nominating contest, however.) The biggest shift? After holding the first-in-the nation nominating caucus since 1972, Iowa was cast aside.

Instead of holding its caucus in January or early February 2024, Iowa has been asked to wait until at least March. (Republicans, meanwhile, have pledged to preserve Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status for their presidential primary.)

South Carolina was selected by the Democrats to go first and to hold its primary on February 3, 2024. Under the proposal, New Hampshire and Nevada would go next, on February 6, followed by Georgia on February 13 and Michigan on February 27. According to Ballotpedia, in 2020, the first four states to hold primaries were: Iowa on February 3, New Hampshire on February 11, Nevada on February 22, then South Carolina on February 29.

Why leave Iowa? Well, as it happens, President Joe Biden didn’t do very well there in 2020. In fact, he came in fourth. He took fifth in New Hampshire and second in Nevada.

South Carolina, though? There he won. (Biden also won the Georgia primary in 2020, but that year Georgia Democrats didn’t go to the polls until June. At that point, Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders were the only two candidates left standing.)

If President Biden chooses to run again in 2024, he likely will run without much competition, but low turnout in Iowa due to lack of enthusiasm still would send a signal about the strength of his support.

Better to go somewhere first where the Democratic base loves you.

What Happened Behind the Scenes

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) confirmed it was President Biden’s decision to move South Carolina before Iowa and all other states. “I didn’t ask to be first. It was his idea [for South Carolina] to be first,” Rep. Clyburn told PBS. Rep. Clyburn endorsed then-candidate Biden before the 2020 South Carolina primary in a move that many believe was responsible for Biden’s victory in that primary contest – and, as a result, his nomination for president by the party.

As Ballotpedia noted, President Biden sent a letter to the DNC’s Rules Committee endorsing a shift in the calendar. That letter argued the DNC, “Must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window.”

In his letter, the president also took Iowa to task for holding a caucus instead of a primary.

As The Bill of Rights Institute explains, caucuses are organized by political parties and normally include only party supporters “who gather to elect delegates to choose whom they believe should be the candidate in a given election.” A primary is more like a general election. It is “an organized statewide event put on by the state government where voters cast a secret ballot for the candidate of their choosing. Whomever receives a majority of the votes is the winner.”

In other words: a caucus is, well, less democratic.

The president argued, “Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process. We are a party dedicated to ensuring participation by all voters and for removing barriers to political participation. Caucuses — requiring voters to choose in public, to spend significant amounts of time to caucus, disadvantaging hourly workers and anyone who does not have the flexibility to go to a set location at a set time — are inherently anti-participatory.”

Ouch. But President Biden did not stop there.

“Our early states must reflect the overall diversity of our party and our nation — economically, geographically, demographically.” Iowa’s population is 90 percent white. (That percentage is less than New Hampshire, however. That state is nearly 93 percent white, but it is home to a primary rather than a caucus.)

In pushing for South Carolina to go first, President Biden also may have had an eye toward making history in future years.

Looking Past 2024

Looking past the 2024 election, Politico said there is a clear beneficiary to the primary calendar shift, and President Biden does not need to go far to find that person. In fact, she was standing next to him when he signed into law this week an historic bill codifying gay marriage: Current Vice President Kamala Harris.

Noting that Harris is the first Black woman (and woman) to be second in command in the executive branch, Politico argued, “Despite her collapse in the 2020 primary, she has a favorable approval rating among Black voters, who make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina. By virtue of her office, she is now inextricably tied to Biden, who is all but royalty there.”

Another woman, current Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, also is better off with the reworked calendar, Politico said. That is because her state will hold its primary much earlier in the nominating season. (Michigan held its primary on March 10, 2020.)

Which 2028 (or, perhaps, 2024) Democratic contender stands to lose the most?

According to Politico, its current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. As readers may recall, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., won the Iowa caucus in 2020. In South Carolina, he came in a disappointing fourth place behind President Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Tom Steyer. (Remember him?)

How much do these early prognostications matter, though? You guessed it: not much.

Democrats’ Next Steps

As noted in the introduction, the Democrats’ new calendar is just a proposal at this point. The full Democratic National Committee has the final say and will consider the proposal early next year. PBS said the full DNC “will almost certainly follow the rule-making committee’s lead.”

But will states abide by the DNC wishes? According to PBS, they may not.

The broadcasting service reported, “[T]he vote by the rules committee has faced serious pushback, with some states vowing to ignore the changes altogether. That’s despite the panel approving language saying states could lose all of their delegates to the party’s national convention if they attempt to violate new rules.” Indeed, Iowa and New Hampshire “have said laws in their states mandate them going before others, and they intend to abide by those, not DNC decrees” and “Nevada, with its heavily Hispanic population, has balked at sharing the second-place slot with New Hampshire, a state 2,500 miles away.”

So hold on for a wild ride in early 2023, especially since the DNC proposal included a provision that would allow the party to revoke half of a state’s delegates at the national convention if they decided to violate the DNC’s proposal.

The order also could shift again before the 2028 nominating convention. According to Ballotpedia, the proposal adopted on December 2 “included rules that would require states to reapply for early presidential primary status again in 2026.” In other words: Vice President Harris probably is not getting comfortable yet — and Pete Buttigieg is far from out of the race.

One thing is certain, though: we know from the speed with which the DNC act lasted week that whether President Biden runs for the White House again or not, Democrats will be looking toward the 2028 campaign before the ink is dry on Election 2024.

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