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Democrats circulate plan for changing 2024 nomination calendar, moving against Iowa and welcoming new early states

A precinct caucus in Des Moines on Feb. 3, 2020. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
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Democratic Party officials circulated plans Monday for a 2024 presidential nominating calendar that would select up to five states to hold contests before March based upon a new set of criteria that appears designed to exclude a return of the Iowa caucuses to their first-in-the-nation status.

The document, labeled “draft for discussion,” defines three criteria for the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) to select early nominating states: the diversity of the electorate “including ethnic, geographic, union representation, economic, etc.;” the competitiveness of the state in a general election; and the ability of the state to administer a “fair, transparent and inclusive” process.

Iowa lacks significant racial or ethnic diversity, is no longer viewed as a swing state and is bound by law to hold a nominating caucus, not a statewide primary.

“The RBC will evaluate applications and select no more than five states” to hold their contests before the first Tuesday in March under party rules, the document says. In past cycles, states that hold contests outside party rules have had their delegates’ voting privileges stripped at the party convention.

The document is expected to be discussed Monday in a virtual meeting of the Rules and Bylaws committee, where committee members have said they hope to create a process that would allow states to apply for early status. The document lays out a six-week application process that would allow states to apply for a spot.

Democrats move closer to cutting Iowa’s first-in-the nation status for 2024 presidential calendar

The heads of the RBC told members in an email Monday that the document was only intended to facilitate a discussion.

“Its transmission to you today is to provide you an opportunity to review and offer commentary, and should not be interpreted as a proposal for voting purposes,” co-chairs James Roosevelt Jr. and Lorraine Miller wrote.

In a statement to The Post, Roosevelt and Miller said they will “continue to let the process play out, as it does every four years.”

Four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — have dominated the early presidential nominating battle in recent decades, attracting an enormous amount of the spending and attention from political candidates. While Republicans have signaled that they are happy to continue that tradition, Democrats have undertaken a process to change the calendar, after being spurned by Iowa caucuses reporting glitches in 2020 and the rightward-drift of the states electorate.

Democrats in Nevada have been campaigning aggressively behind the scenes to take Iowa’s first spot, after passing a law last year that changes the state’s process to a primary and moves it early in the year. That puts the state on a collision course with New Hampshire, where the secretary of state is required by law to schedule the presidential primary before any other state.

Nevada leaders, including Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), have circulated a glossy brochure in recent weeks that boasts of the state’s racial, ethnic and economic diversity, high union membership rate, significant rural population and the recent success Democrats have had in the historical swing state.

The brochure includes quotes from journalists attacking New Hampshire’s and Iowa’s head-of-the-pack positions as giving disproportionate power to two states with overwhelmingly White populations. About 90 percent of Iowa residents are White, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, as are 93 percent of New Hampshire residents. By contrast, 74 percent of Nevada and 69 percent of South Carolina are White.

When ethnicity is taken into account, Nevada appears more diverse, with only 48 percent of the state identifying as non-Hispanic White, compared with 85 percent of Iowa, 90 percent of New Hampshire and 64 percent of South Carolina, census data show.

“Nevada is still a small, accessible state that provides an early test of candidates without breaking the bank, with two primary media markets that cover 90% of the state,” the brochure reads.

South Carolina, which played a pivotal role in President Biden’s nomination in 2020, is likely to keep a place in the early process because of its diversity and its primary process. New Hampshire also fulfills two of the three criteria, as a competitive general-election state with a primary.

The draft document, which was obtained by a person involved in the process, does make clear the desire for at least one other state to move up in the process. Michigan is often discussed as on option, as a diverse and competitive state with a primary process. But changing the date of the primary would require the cooperation of Republican lawmakers, who control the legislature.

“We are certainly going to look at, and I am certainly going to look at it honor of Carl Levin,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), referring to the late senator from Michigan who had worked for years to make his state a part of the early nominating process.

New Jersey Democrats have also signaled their interest in applying to move up their state’s primary.

Under the proposed process, the RBC would hold three virtual public hearings to take input about the primary process, while states draft their applications to take a place in the early window. The RBC will then choose “a subset of State Parties that applied” to publicly present their cases to the committee.

The document closely tracks the content of a similar staff working document that leaked before the RBC’s last meeting on March 11. At the time, Roosevelt denied that the document was anything more than a working draft. “There is no prepared resolution floating around out there,” he said.

But Scott Brennan, who represents Iowa Democrats on the committee, reacted angrily to the revelation that party staff were moving forward with a plan before the RBC had met to discuss it. In the meeting that followed, he was alone in speaking out forcefully in favor of Iowa keeping its place in the process.