Democrats prepare to upend presidential primary calendar
The DNC’s rules committee is set to meet later this week to consider booting Iowa from its first-in-the-nation slot and add new early states.
Democrats in Minnesota also gained trifecta control there by flipping the state Senate and reelecting Gov. Tim Walz. | Abbie Parr/AP Photo
11/29/2022 04:30 AM EST
Updated: 11/29/2022 09:20 AM EST
The list of states with the biggest say in Democratic presidential contests could get a big shake-up this week.
A flurry of public and private lobbying to reformat the longtime early-state lineup of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina kicked off again after the midterms, with the Democratic National Committee’s group reviewing the order set to meet later this week. Key Democratic leaders have been bombarded with phone calls and memos in recent days, while some elected officials, like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), took their state’s case to the cable news airwaves.
The behind-the-scenes jockeying has intensified, but the most important player in the drama — the White House — has remained tight-lipped about how the schedule should shake out, according to several Democratic operatives involved in the process.
States like Michigan and Minnesota are trying to push in, while Nevada is making a play for first-in-the-nation status over New Hampshire. The committee has still left open the possibility of adding a fifth calendar to the slate, while it’s also been suggested that two states could hold their contests on the same day. It’s unclear just how much will change. But there is at least one clear preference from many Democratic leaders, both outside and inside these party deliberations: that Iowa be scrapped from its coveted first slot.
“I don’t think there’s any way Iowa stays and there’s no reason for Iowa to stay,” said one Democrat familiar with the process of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, the group charged with reordering the calendar. “From an electoral standpoint, we’ve lost Iowa completely.”
Later this week, the rules committee will meet again in Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue. They’re expected to move forward with a proposal for the 2024 presidential nominating calendar at the meeting, according to sources familiar with the agenda, which will then go before the full DNC for a vote in late January or early February.
But there is frustration among some DNC members about the silence from the White House.
“If the president says he wants this state or that state in the early window, then I’m going to support it because he’s the leader of the party and I would imagine every other [rules committee] member feels the same way,” said one DNC member, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “So, it’s frustrating when we’ve invested all this time, energy and money into this whole process and the White House has given us nothing, even though we’re only days away from making a decision.”
“It’s almost like Kabuki theater,” the person continued.
Some of the outstanding questions facing the DNC were reshaped by November’s midterm results.
One is which state would replace Iowa, representing the Midwestern region in the early-state lineup. Both Michigan and Minnesota are seen as leading contenders for the slot, positions that were further strengthened by the November results. Democrats flipped both of Michigan’s state legislative chambers and reelected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, while Democrats in Minnesota also gained trifecta control there by flipping the state Senate and reelecting Gov. Tim Walz.
Those victories clear the way for both states to legislatively change the date of their primaries, removing logistical hurdles they would have faced without those results. Walz, along with other state leaders, sent a letter to DNC members this month confirming his state party’s commitment to pass such legislation, arguing that Minnesota “is a highly representative approximation of the country, paired with a robust state and local party infrastructure, an engaged electorate, and a logistical and financial advantage for campaigns.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who has led her state’s charge to move up in the nominating calendar, said she’d make moving into the early window her “primary focus” in a letter to her state’s central committee, seeking their support for her bid for an open seat on the DNC.
“Key groups that Democrats need to persuade and turn out to win national elections are the backbone of our state,” Dingell wrote in her letter. “Michigan is the most diverse battleground state, and a microcosm of America.”
Several DNC members said they think Michigan currently holds an edge over Minnesota. But Michigan may face pushback due to its larger size, some members said, given that the committee has frequently raised in previous meetings that states should be small and accessible enough for lesser-known can