Democrats assess changes to presidential primary, Iowa caucus : NPR


Supporters of then-Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg prepare for a caucus for him in the gymnasium at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa on February 3, 2020. The caucuses were marred with problems and no winner was been appointed.

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Democrats assess changes to presidential primary, Iowa caucus : NPR

Supporters of then-Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg prepare for a caucus for him in the gymnasium at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa on February 3, 2020. The caucuses were marred with problems and no winner was been appointed.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Two years after the major collapse of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, the National Party members who set its presidential nomination timeline still appear to want to change the process going forward, citing longtime critics of the caucuses.

On February 3, 2020, a smartphone app intended to streamline the Democratic presidential race process failed and no winner was named. The call for the Iowa caucuses to lose their first-in-the-nation status escalated afterward.

A reminder about the caucuses: they are very different from a primary. The state party runs them and people gather at a set time on a cold winter night in high school gymnasiums or church basements. For the Democrats, caucus spectators must move around the room to show their support for their candidate.

John Deeth — who sits on the board of directors for Johnson County Democrats, the county in Iowa that most reliably votes for Democrats — won’t say Iowa should lose its spot on the calendar, but he’s done defending the caucuses.

“The first thing we say [voters] stand in line for 45 minutes and then go and stand in the corner for three hours to be able to vote,” Deeth said. “They come out of there with a terribly, terribly negative impression of the local party.

The criticisms of caucuses are not new: they are heavy, they can be difficult for people to attend and they take time. Some other states have recently moved away from caucuses. The smartphone app fiasco in Iowa has only added to the call for change — and added to that the inability to socially distance in a crowded huddle during a pandemic.

Party members discussed the schedule change during a virtual meeting of Democratic National Committee officials over the weekend.

“Any suspicion of deletion or exclusion, whether intentional or accidental, we must investigate and ensure that we are not guilty of the same things of which we accuse the other party,” said committee member Yvette Lewis. DNC rules and regulations. , of Maryland.

Lewis said the full trajectory of the 2020 primary race changed in South Carolina when voters of color secured a victory for Joe Biden. That was after finishing fourth and fifth in the two much less diverse states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Democrats assess changes to presidential primary, Iowa caucus : NPR

Deidre DeJear, seen here in a 2018 file photo, is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who supports the Iowa caucuses.

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Democrats assess changes to presidential primary, Iowa caucus : NPR

Deidre DeJear, seen here in a 2018 file photo, is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who supports the Iowa caucuses.

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio

Iowa has Democrats who defend the caucuses. Deidre DeJear, who is running for governor this year, says Iowans know how to assess candidates on important issues.

She said she’s knocked on doors for campaigns in other states. “But I’m knocking on that door and I’m like, ‘Hey, are you coming to this event tonight? [and they say] “Oh, I don’t do politics,” she said.

DeJear was the state campaign chair for the unsuccessful presidential bid of current Vice President Harris, which she disbanded in 2019. DeJear says the Iowa caucuses should remain first on the nominating calendar Democrats.

“Do we need improvements in the caucus process? Absolutely,” DeJear said. “Do we need to expand the electorate and bring more people into it, whether it’s people who just can’t engage because of the weather or people who can’t access it because of a disability or whatever? Yeah, we’ve got to rectify that.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn said he has work to do to educate the DNC after last weekend’s meeting. Wilburn is the state party’s first black president and also an Ames state legislator. He says the party can’t just move its caucuses because of a state law.

“They made it look like it was a choice, well, you can choose,” Wilburn said. “It’s not a choice; it’s Iowa code here.”

And the Republicans, who haven’t shown the same interest in changing their timetable, control the Iowa state government.

Wilburn said everything is still under discussion and no decision has yet been made.

“There’s this expression: it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Wilburn said. “Well, maybe it’s a 10k because it’s 2022, and they’ve started their conversations.”

But with President Biden’s approval ratings waning and his party struggling to keep narrow midterm congressional majorities, National Democrats will have to decide how much of a timeline debate they want in their hands.


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