- Officials from Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire pitched the committee on why they should go first.
- Sixteen states and Puerto Rico will present before the Rules and Bylaws committee this week.
- The committee plans to meet in early August to select the slate of early voting states.
WASHINGTON — Democratic officials from Nevada and New Hampshire made aggressive pitches for their states to kick off the presidential nominating process Wednesday, starting two days of hearings that could dramatically reshape the way America chooses presidents.
State party officials from Nevada shared a slickly produced promotional video touting its broad diversity and voter access laws. New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators helped make their case as staffers passed around goodie bags to the committee members. And both states shared glossy booklets highlighting their best arguments.
Members of the Democratic National Committee will consider those pitches and more over two days as they reshuffle the presidential nominating calendar, fundamentally rethinking which voices the party will elevate first in the long, arduous process of picking a president.
The result, they say, will better align the party with its base — and boost Democrats’ chances of taking the White House in 2024 and beyond.
DNC Rules and Bylaws committee co-chair Jim Roosevelt told USA TODAY that all of the states presenting “are very focused on it, are preparing very thoroughly, and are making strong cases.”
For years, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada had been allowed by the national party to hold their presidential caucuses and primaries before the rest of the country.
Presidential candidates rewarded those states with outsized attention, holding events from big cities to small towns, even as critics said those voters represented only a small slice of the nation.
But in April, the committee voted to strip those four states of their waivers and invite any state party that wants to hold an early contest to submit applications.
Who wants to go first?
To try to ensure their nominating process reflects the party’s broader values, the committee said it intends to prioritize states that offer a competitive general election landscape, have a diverse electorate and are able hold an effective contest.
Eighteen states, Puerto Rico and the group representing Democrats living abroad submitted written applications. Of those, 16 states and Puerto Rico were invited to make in-person presentations this week. They include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
The committee expects to meet in early August to select up to five states to hold the first Democratic primaries or caucuses in the nominating process.
Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire kick off presentations
In their presentation to the committee Wednesday, Nevada officials repeatedly emphasized the state’s diversity.
“The state that goes first matters…,” said Rebecca Lambe, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “That’s why we believe it’s so important for the first state to look like America.”
People of color represent a majority of Nevada’s population, which is the third-most diverse in the country, according to U.S. Census data. Iowa is the sixth-least diverse state in the country, and New Hampshire is the fourth-least diverse.
Presenters highlighted Nevada’s voter access laws, which include same-day voter registration, two weeks of early voting and a universal vote by mail process. The group also touted the state’s decision to move from a caucus to a presidential primary, beginning in 2024.
New Hampshire officials highlighted their deep history of hosting presidential candidates, emphasizing their ability to create a level playing field regardless of whether candidates have “$10,000 in their bank account or $100 million in their bank account.”
“I’m not saying every state party isn’t able to do that,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley said. “But we do it really well.”
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., suggested that changing New Hampshire’s place in the lineup could negatively affect her colleague, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, who is in an ultra competitive re-election battle this fall.
“We’re seeing a growing narrative that blames Democrats for jeopardizing New Hampshire’s first in the nation status,” she said. “With such a tight Senate race and a newly drawn congressional map, I fear stripping New Hampshire of its long-held position could be consequential.”
In a question-and-answer session, committee members pressed the New Hampshire officials about how the state would respond if the committee decides to move it later in the process.
New Hampshire has a state law requiring the secretary of state set its presidential primary before any other “similar” primary contest. Shaheen said Iowa’s caucuses are different enough from its primaries that they do not conflict with the state law. But if another primary state were to be placed ahead of New Hampshire, party officials said, it’s unclear how they would need to react.
“At the end of the day, the state law isn’t something that the people of New Hampshire would allow to be changed,” Buckley said. “It’s so much part of the culture. It is so much part of the DNA.”
Colorado also made a pitch Wednesday, though with far less fanfare. The state emphasized voting rights and touted the state’s high voter turnout. Howard Chou, the state party’s vice chair who presented for Colorado, argued that the state, currently at nine electoral votes, makes an impact but is small enough for candidates to cover in a short amount of time.
The presentation pointed to the state’s geographic diversity and large tourism economy. Chou also pointed to the large number of unaffiliated voters in Colorado as a robust population of swing voters that Democrats could target.
Members of the Rules and Bylaws committee, including former DNC Chair Donna Brazile, questioned how quickly Colorado could calculate election results given the large number of ballots cast by mail — a point of concern given the delayed reporting of the results from the last Iowa caucus.
Calendar efforts target Iowa’s caucuses after 2020 debacle
The efforts come in the wake of a disastrous start to the 2020 presidential nominating process, when errors and glitches snarled results from the Iowa caucuses for days after candidates had spent months — and, in some cases, years — campaigning in the state.
On caucus night in February 2020, an app designed to tally and report out results from each of the state’s roughly 1,700 precincts failed in spectacular fashion, leaving the political world guessing at the results.
Across the country, Democrats have argued for years that Iowa’s caucuses no longer deserve to kick off such an important process. The caucuses, they say, are unnecessarily complicated, lack transparency and create barriers to participation. And Iowa, a mostly white and mostly rural state that voted twice for former Republican President Donald Trump, no longer represents the Democratic Party’s base of voters, they say.
The 2020 collapse added to the criticisms, And although the committee is asking all four traditional early states to re-apply for a waiver, its clear target throughout the process has been Iowa.
Though the committee did not vote to explicitly rule out states that hold caucuses, members have been vocal about their disapproval.
“I will say it right now, caucus states are going to be a hard sell for me,” committee member Mo Elleithee said during an April meeting.
Iowa is expected to make its presentation to the committee Thursday morning. State officials have promised to make sweeping changes to the caucuses in an effort to make them more transparent and accessible.
Instead of gathering in person at a specific time and place on caucus night, Iowa Democrats would instead open up a two- to three-week absentee process. Democrats could submit written cards noting their presidential preferences at drop-off locations or through the mail. The Iowa Democratic Party would contract with vendors or state election officials to tally the results and announce them on caucus night.
“There’s a reason that Iowa has been first,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said at the time. “And there’s a reason Iowa should continue to be first.”
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