The Democratic National Committee is looking to scrap Iowa and New Hampshire as the first states to weigh in on the party’s presidential hopefuls in 2024, but don’t look for New Jersey or New York to jump to the head of the pack.
Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison told a meeting of party officials earlier this week that the 2024 presidential primary calendar “will incorporate the diverse perspectives that make our party strong,” according to the Washington Post.
What does that mean? Under a draft resolution circulated by the DNC’s Rules and By-laws Committee and obtained by CNN, the revised calendar would favor states to go early if they are demographically diverse, competitive in the general election and hold primaries (as opposed to caucuses) in order to determine their convention delegates.
That criteria won’t necessarily favor New York or New Jersey, which conducted their 2020 primaries in June and July, respectively. While both are very diverse states, they're also reliably blue states, meaning they are non-competitive in the general election.
That hasn’t stopped New Jersey from campaigning for an early slot.
Ahead of the DNC’s confab, New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chair LeRoy J. Jones Jr. petitioned the DNC to make the state an early presidential primary state.
“Our party cannot cling to outdated traditions that do not help us reach new voters and motivate the diverse coalition of supporters needed to win elections and enact our pro-middle class agenda," Jones wrote in a letter to the DNC.
He added: “It is time for the Democratic Party to move boldly into the future with a presidential primary calendar that reflects the diversity of our party and nation. Let’s make New Jersey one of the first primary states, and set up future Democratic Party presidential nominees for long-term success.”
Our party cannot cling to outdated traditions that do not help us reach new voters and motivate the diverse coalition of supporters needed to win elections and enact our pro-middle class agenda.
Party officials said they could decide the issue as soon as their meeting later this month.
Democrats have long debated shaking up the lineup, but things came to a head after the chaotic 2020 Iowa caucus, which dragged on for weeks and required a recount.
“You had two candidates, (Pete) Buttigieg and (Bernie) Sanders, both declaring themselves the winner,” said Dan DiSalvo, the chair of political science in the Colin Powell School at the City College of New York–CUNY and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “It was messy.”
Brian Arbour, a professor of political science at John Jay College, said that for many young Americans the existing system appears increasingly outdated.
“My New York City students are heavily diverse and are used to living in diverse environments,” said Arbour. “And the Iowa electorate will be 95% white and they'll be, 'How is that even possible?'”
In 2020, Joe Biden won just 43% of the white vote, while Donald Trump won 55%. However, Biden won 92% of the Black vote, 59% of the Hispanic vote and 72% of the Asian American vote. Non-white voters have increasingly come to define the Democratic Party.
Iowa, which is 90% white, has been the first state to hold a caucus or primary every four years since 1972, followed closely in the lineup by New Hampshire, whose population is 93% white, according to census data. This has consequences for the narrative that takes shape early in the election cycle.
“Both of these states have tremendous winnowing power so it's not unusual, after those first two contests, for a big share of the candidates who have been running to drop out,” said Patrick Egan, who teaches politics and policy at NYU.
He said changing demographics and the complexion of the party had made the changes in primary schedules an ongoing topic of debate.
“With every year it’s a little bit more of a possibility as the party becomes more and more diverse and in that sense becomes more and more unlike the demographics of Iowa, and New Hampshire,” said Egan.
Arbour said the intense focus on these two states early in the calendar also had potential policy implications.
“One argument is that policy bends to the particular needs of those states,” said Arbour. “That’s like the ‘West Wing’ argument about ‘We have ethanol subsidies because the Iowa caucus goes first,’” referring to the TV show. “That’s a little too much but there’s some sort of truth to that.”
Additionally, with states like Iowa and New Hampshire, said Egan, “you get an electorate that’s not as concerned with issues of racial and ethnic inequality as is the case for more diverse electorates and certainly the United States as a whole.”
More diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina, he said, could be good replacements for Iowa, because they “look much more like the party than do Iowa and New Hampshire, just in terms of who votes there, who the big players in the party are there.”
On the other hand, said DiSalvo, Iowa represents “exactly the kind of state where the Democrats need to expand their coalition into more rural areas and swing states.”
Going forward, DiSalvo said Democrats have to be careful about which states they consider placing earlier in the lineup.
Going with a “big, expensive, diverse state first” – such as New York or New Jersey – “does that privilege the kind of Washington insider, the Hillary Clintons of the world, to campaign in a state like New Jersey, where it’s going to be really expensive, you’ve got big cities, you’ve got New York media markets? Buttigieg can’t cut it there but he can run a small operation and emerge in a place like Iowa.”