Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sunday Series: There's no budding feud between Iowa and New Hampshire, but the Democratic parties in each are approaching 2024 differently. Here is how.

Much happened this past week with respect to the maneuvering at the very front of the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Iowa Democrats finally revealed an initial draft of their 2024 delegate selection plan. In the General Assembly in the Hawkeye state, the Senate pushed through a bill intended to protect the first-in-the-nation caucuses that now heads to Governor Kim Reynolds (R). And the motivation, at least part of it anyway, for that bill was to further insulate the caucuses from triggering the first-in-the-nation law in fellow early state, New Hampshire. 

But in the rush to draw battle lines between the pair of traditionally early states -- battle lines that do not really exist in the first place -- many missed an important story developing in plain sight. In the face of new calendar rules for 2024 on the Democratic side, state Democratic parties in Iowa and New Hampshire are taking vastly different approaches to protecting their early calendar turf. 

In the Granite state, Democrats started off defiant in December when the new DNC calendar rules were unveiled, have stayed defiant and give every indication that they intend to see this through to the national convention next  summer if they have to. Much of that defiance has come directly from the state parties and elected officials in the Granite state of all partisan stripes. But it is also right there in the delegate selection plan New Hampshire Democrats released back in March:
The newly released draft DSP specifies no date, a break from the past protocol. Additionally, it says what New Hampshire Democrats have been saying for months
The “first determining step” of New Hampshire's delegate selection process will occur on a date to be determined by the New Hampshire Secretary of State in accordance with NH RSA 653:9, with a “Presidential Preference Primary.” The Republican Presidential Preference Primary will be held in conjunction with the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary.
And, in truth, Iowa Democrats have not been saying much different from what their brethren in the Granite state have been. In February, new Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart was quick to strike a similar tone to New Hampshire's above in the immediate aftermath of the full DNC vote to adopt the 2024 rules.
“Iowa does not have the luxury of conducting a state-run primary, nor are Iowa Republicans likely to support legislation that would establish one. Our state law requires us to hold precinct caucuses before the last Tuesday in February, and before any other contest.”
Of course, none of that is surprising. Folks from both Iowa and New Hampshire have uttered similar things in past cycles when the calendar positions of each have been threatened. The mantra is simple in both states (for better or worse): When in doubt, lean on the state laws that protect the caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary. But on the surface this past week, it looked like Iowa Democrats were now doing the same thing in their delegate selection plan that New Hampshire Democrats did in March in theirs. Which is to say, it looked like the party was planning to defy the national party rules. 

Headlines that made their way to the fore after the release of the plan seemed to reflect that: "Iowa Democrats plan to caucus same night as Republicans." But under the hood, in the weeds of the Iowa Democratic Party delegate selection plan, the state party was telling a different story. The caucuses will take place on the same night that Iowa Republicans caucus. And that is likely to be sometime in January 2024. However, those precinct caucuses, at least according to the plan, will have no direct effect on delegate allocation in the Iowa Democratic process. It is not, to use the DNC terminology, the first determining step, the part of the process where voters indicate presidential preference which, in turn, determines delegate allocation. That is the step the DNC is watching. That is the step that would draw penalties should it occur prior to March 5, 2024, the first Tuesday in March for this cycle. 

What the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee is concerned with is when that all-mail presidential preference vote concludes. It is that vote that will affect delegate allocation. Like the New Hampshire primary in the delegate selection plan in the Granite state, the date the preference vote is set to conclude was left unspecified. If the end of that vote-by-mail process coincides with the likely January caucuses, then it would be a problem. If the point at which the preference vote results are revealed falls later in the calendar, it may not (depending on where that is). 

The key here is that Iowa Democrats are more clearly than ever bifurcating the allocation and selection processes. Their plan does not roll everything into one "caucus" as has been the case in past cycles. The January caucuses will only advance the delegate selection process. That will not influence delegate allocation. Even if delegates aligned with, say, Marianne Williamson were to move to the county stage from the precinct caucuses and set themselves up to be selected to move on to the district and state convention stages, that would not mean that they would be eligible to fill any Biden-allocated slots (as determined by the preference vote). That is something that can occur in the Republican nomination process, but on the Democratic side, the candidates and their campaigns have the ability to approve the delegates that are pledged to them. It is a failsafe the Republican process does not have. 

Bifurcation, then, allows Iowa Democrats to have their cake and eat it too. They can continue to hold first-in-the-nation caucuses (as part of the selection process) that complies with state law but also comply with DNC rules by using a later vote-by-mail presidential preference vote as the first determining step in the allocation process. 

One could argue that there is a structural difference between Iowa and New Hampshire in this instance. The Iowa Democratic Party has more control over its party-run process than New Hampshire Democrats do with respect to a state-run presidential primary. And while that is true, it also obscures the fact that New Hampshire Democrats are not completely without discretion here. Granite state Democrats have chosen to live free or die with the state-run primary option as a means of protecting the first-in-the nation institution. 

But New Hampshire Democrats do have a choice. The state party has the same first amendment/free association rights as the state Democratic Party in Iowa. But they have chosen -- and folks, it makes sense for them to do so politically in New Hampshire -- to stick with the state-run primary rather than explore other options. That could be some party-run process or lobbying majority Republicans in the New Hampshire General Court to create a carve-out for either the Democratic Party or the party with an incumbent president running for reelection. As an example, there could be a state-run/state-funded option for Democrats aligned with town meeting day in March

But again, New Hampshire Democrats have chosen a different path in response to the new DNC calendar rules than Iowa Democrats have. And as FHQ has argued, New Hampshire Democrats may be vindicated in the end. They are banking on the fact that the national party will cave at the national convention and seat any New Hampshire Democratic delegates if the fight lasts that long. 

In the near term, however, Iowa Democrats are differently approaching the threat to the caucuses (or what they are continuing to call caucuses). Their plan, rather than coming out defiant buys the state party both time and flexibility. And both are useful as the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee moves into the job of reviewing and approving 2024 delegate selection plans. Continued New Hampshire defiance in that process coupled with the flexibility the Iowa Democratic Party plan provides them means that, should New Hampshire Democrats draw sanctions from the DNC, then Iowa Democrats are well-positioned to make the case that their vote-by-mail presidential preference vote should be a part of the early window. That part of the process may not be first -- the caucuses, after all, will be in the selection phase -- but the all-mail preference vote could make the cut. 

...if the DNC feels compelled to keep four or five [compliant] states in the window before Super Tuesday. South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan are already there. Could more states be added? Iowa and Delaware, where things have been quite quiet, could be poised to move into that area of the calendar

The bottom line here is that there is no budding feud between Iowa and New Hampshire. Yet, the in the face of threats, state Democratic parties in each are taking on the new challenge in markedly and notably different ways. That is a story that merits more attention than any attempt to manufacture some non-existent calendar drama between the two. 


No comments: