Sunday, January 15, 2023

Iowa Back in the Democratic Pre-Window?

During the last month or so there has been significant chatter about not to mention back and forth between New Hampshire Democrats and the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) over the position of the Granite state presidential primary on the 2024 Democratic presidential primary calendar. But that has mostly overshadowed the impact the proposed calendar overhaul has had on the other traditional lead-off state, Iowa. 

Sure, the caucuses in the Hawkeye state were ousted from their spot at the head of the class in the Democratic presidential nomination process for first time in the last half century. However, more (national) attention has been paid to the defiance of New Hampshire Democrats, who received a pre-window waiver (albeit with a demanding set of conditions), than to Iowa Democrats also potentially breaking the rules to continue occupying the top slot. 

Placed on the back burner in reality or not, the Iowa situation has not gone anywhere. In fact, the recent deadline for the states granted contingent pre-window waivers by the DNCRBC to check in with their progress did not go unnoticed. When it was revealed that Georgia and New Hampshire had both fallen short of meeting the state-specific mandates from the national panel, Iowa Democrats took the opportunity to lobby once again to be reinserted into the lineup. 

In a letter to the DNCRBC, Ross Wilburn, outgoing Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) chair, astutely leaned on the feasibility argument that weighed so heavily on the panel down the stretch in their decision-making process. Those potential complications forced the committee to punt on a calendar decision until after the 2022 midterms. As Wilburn wrote:
"The Iowa Democratic Party believes that, with two states apparently unable to meet the criteria set forth as conditions of a waiver, within the timeline set forth by this committee, we have a compelling case to be granted a conditional waiver for a pre-window contest. As a state party run contest, we retain the ultimate ability to tailor our contest to RBC rules and specifications and maintain a flexibility that states with state-run contests cannot. To that end, we request consideration for a conditional waiver be considered at the February meeting of the RBC."
Honing in on the revised, fully-absentee caucuses that the IDP pitched to the DNCRBC in the summer, Wilburn continued:
"The process we proposed allowed flexibility as to the date while complying with Iowa law. We believe that Iowa can be an important part of the solution to an early nominating calendar by providing flexibility with its new process."
But Wilburn was not the only one making the case. Iowa's sole member of the DNCRBC, Scott Brennan also weighed in:
"We view this as an opportunity to go back and say, 'Take another look, you made a mistake with us the first time. We're willing to forgive and forget and take our spot back in the pre-window."
Brennan added that Iowa Democrats "stand ready, willing and able to fill in" before setting expectations for the coming weeks before the DNC presumably votes on finalizing the early calendar:
Brennan said he expects the committee will discuss Wilburn’s request at its February meeting, but meet virtually in the meantime in the next couple of weeks to discuss granting a deadline extension for New Hampshire and Georgia.
Even Governor Kim Reynolds (R-IA) added her two cents during her second inaugural speech this past week:
To the national Democrats, to President Biden, I say this: Reconsider,” she said. “Come back to Iowa, and you won’t regret it.
None of this is unexpected. The Iowa loose end will have to be tied off at some point by either the DNCRBC or the Iowa Democratic Party. But until (and perhaps after) the DNC finalizes the 2024 calendar rules, the IDP clearly has no qualms about continuing to pitch the caucuses as a solution to any implementation problems other states may have. 

But one thing this highlights that I do not think has been emphasized enough since the DNCRBC handed down its proposal in December is that that action has so far served as a massive wedge in between a host of institutionalized traditions that have developed during the post-reform era with Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the queue. 

Think about how both parties in each state may have differed on every policy position under the sun, but agreed on one thing, keeping their respective states first in the presidential primary order. That bipartisanship still exists in both states, but it has been weakened. State parties in Iowa and New Hampshire are still fighting to remain first, but Republicans in both states have not been shy about pointing out how the DNCRBC decision means that national Democrats do not care about the interests of either state. And neither have Democrats in the two states been unwilling to tell the national party what the decision may mean for Democrats in their states or nationally. That past togetherness on the matter between Democrats and Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire is gone. 

And that is not the only wedge. The DNCRBC decision has also undermined the Iowa/New Hampshire relationship. It has not always been the case, yet both states have done well to band together to ward off threats in the past. Now, those threats were from other potential rogue states and not a change in national party rules, but Iowa and New Hampshire would work together. Iowa Democrats even consulted with New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner in the lead up to the 2020 cycle to insure that any changes to the caucus process in the Hawkeye state would not run afoul of the state law in the Granite state. 

That working relationship now seems to be gone too in the aftermath of the DNCRBC adoption of the calendar rules package. New Hampshire Democrats failed to meet the DNCRBC stipulations by January 5, and Iowa Democrats did not hesitate to offer the caucuses up as a substitute. That would not have happened in the past. 

None of that was by design, per se. The DNCRBC and the Biden administration simply wanted to change up the states and order of the contests in the pre-window. But it would be a mistake not to make note of the extent to which that has already eroded rituals if not instincts that have developed in the post-reform era, traditions primary watchers could be excused for taking for granted. 

In the end, as the DNC winter meeting approaches at the beginning of February, Iowa may or may not prove to be a suitable substitute. However, the DNCRBC did not support a plan that included five state-run contests by accident. It has a preference for them. That is why the Iowa caucuses -- feasibility of movement aside -- should be discounted as much as New Hampshire Democrats potentially offering to shift to a party-run contest in order to comply with the DNCRBC proposal (which they have not done and likely will not).

Of course, that may leave the DNCRBC with other imperfect possibilities relative to the criteria it has used during the selection process. Then again, Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats may just ignore them anyway. But that is another matter. 

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