U.S. President Joe Biden may be a man of tradition, but the Democratic Party he leads is poised to get rid of one of its oldest political rituals.
A closed group of Democrats will meet Friday to reshape the party’s presidential nomination process. They plan to bump Iowa as the state where White House runs kick off every four years, hoping to usher in a more diverse, early nominating calendar, according eight senior Democratic officials.
Which state takes Iowa’s place and which come next in line in the primaries remain unclear, amid a hard-fought battle among Democratic officials who each want their home state to move up the calendar.
Biden has not weighed in on the matter, sources say, and many members of the party’s rules committee await word from the White House.
“The one thing I know for certain is Iowa won’t be leading the nominating contest. Everything else is up in the air and will certainly be fiercely debated,” said a senior official with the National Democratic Committee.
The committee is expected to decide at a meeting on Friday and Saturday in a Washington hotel. The DNC and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Because it comes first in the process, Iowa, the country’s 31st largest state by both population and gross domestic product, has for nearly 50 years had an outsized role for both parties in identifying viable candidates to become president.
Presidential hopefuls blanket Iowa’s airwaves with ads and hopscotch the state to talk to voters at state fairs, town halls and school gymnasiums. They take crash courses in agricultural issues that dominate Iowa’s economy.
Months of activity culminate in a series of caucuses where locals gather to make the case for their favored candidate to other Iowa voters, often wooing their support through multiple rounds of voting until a winner is declared.
After Iowa, both Democrats and Republicans hold state primaries that narrow down presidential candidates even further. Republicans have not announced plans to strip Iowa of its first-in-the-nation status.
The U.S. voting population has morphed from about 85% white in 1996 to 69% in 2020, Pew Research shows, with the newest generation able to vote, ‘Gen Z’ just 55% white. Iowa, with an approximately 90% white population, is no longer an accurate predictor of which candidate will do well on the national stage, Democrats say.
Their push to change the primary calendar picked up momentum after 2020 when the Democrats’ Iowa caucuses were plagued by technical and communication issues that delayed the announcement of a winner.
The rules governing the party primaries could be particularly important in 2024. Some White House officials think Biden could face a primary challenge within his own party, and new rules could subtly shift the odds.
Biden has no love lost for Iowa after disappointing results there in 2008 and 2020. His 2020 campaign was only secure after the fourth nominating contest that year, in South Carolina, where a heavily Black electorate helped lift him to victory.
Twenty states and territories applied for a 2024 early primary spot and 17 were invited make their pitch to DNC officials over the summer, including the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Officials in Michigan and Minnesota are fighting hard to take Iowa’s place. Democrats in both states took control of the governors’ mansions and the state legislatures during the midterm elections, giving them the power to shift the schedule if needed.
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz told the DNC in November that Minnesota is ready to pass legislation necessary to move up the primary calendar.
“Minnesota offers a reflective snapshot of America and serves as the most suitable landscape for presidential candidates to compete,” he said.
Some Democrats believe Michigan is too big to be an early state, because it will cost candidates dearly to campaign there and also allow some to bypass earlier, smaller states and only concentrate on Michigan. But supporters say a key swing state that offers candidates a true test of viability.
The committee may also consider adding another state to the early nominating calendar, such as Washington or Maryland, source say.
One of the biggest questions heading into the meeting is what to do about New Hampshire. The state has traditionally held the first primary, right after Iowa’s caucuses, but some Democrats would like more-diverse Nevada to get that spot.
But New Hampshire state law requires its secretary of state to set the primary date seven days before any other, providing state officials a firewall against any efforts to boot them as the first primary state.