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Iowa and New Hampshire are not guaranteed to be first contests for Democrats in 2024

Caucusgoers are seen here in Carpenter, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 2020. If the Democratic National Convention revamps the presidential nominating process, Iowa could lose its "first in the nation" status.
Steve Pope
Getty Images
Caucusgoers are seen here in Carpenter, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 2020. If the Democratic National Convention revamps the presidential nominating process, Iowa could lose its "first in the nation" status.

Updated April 13, 2022 at 7:55 PM ET

It's official: Iowa and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status as the caucus and primary openers of the presidential campaign season is no longer guaranteed after the Democratic National Committee approved a resolution that significantly changes the way the party picks its presidential candidates.

"I personally believe, and I think I'm not speaking just for myself, that this is a powerful resolution of a thoughtful process that is going to be inclusive of all Democrats," said Jim Roosevelt Jr., who co-chairs the Rules and Bylaws Committee, after the measure passed Wednesday night. "That's our goal."

The resolution upends the traditional presidential nominating calendar for Democrats, which places the Iowa caucuses first, followed by primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Iowa and New Hampshire have been the first and second contests since 1972.

The newly adopted resolution will require states or territories to make the case for themselves to be included in a batch of states to have contests ahead of Super Tuesday in early March.

Committee members say the change will ensure a nominating process that is more reflective of the party's values.

The measure lays out a roadmap for states that wish to go towards the beginning of the calendar, taking into account the demographic diversity of the state, its use of primaries over caucuses, and how competitive it will be in the general election.

"Does the state contribute to the party's ability to win in the general election?" Roosevelt said. "It might well be that you could pick a state where somebody will be overwhelmingly popular, but they're an outlier from the rest of the country. You pick somebody who's really good with sled dogs for an Alaska early primary...that's not going to create a candidate that necessarily resonates nationally."

He added that electoral history is also an integral factor.

"Has the state chosen candidates in the past in either the primaries or caucuses who went on to win both the nomination and election?"

States that are interested must submit a formal application in early June and give a presentation to the committee later that month. The committee will announce its proposed schedule in July and then the full DNC will vote to approve it in August.

Clear preference for primaries, not caucuses

Discussion among the committee members ahead of Wednesday's vote made it clear there is a strong preference against approving a caucus state in the early window.

"I will say it right now, caucus states are going to be a hard sell for me," said committee member Mo Elleithee of Washington, D.C.

But Elleithee didn't want to go as far as saying caucus states "need not apply."

"I think we want to give every state the chance to make the most compelling case and then we as committee members will know which of these factors are most important to us," he said. "States that don't offer some form of diversity are going to be a hard sell for me. But there may be states that can convince me, that I'm willing to overlook some of that because the rest of their case is so compelling as to how they fit into the framework."

Scott Brennan, a member from Iowa, added he preferred to keep the language flexible.

"Let's be general and let's let everyone make their case and we'll let the chips fall where they may," he said.

The changes come after years of criticism for Iowa and New Hampshire

In 2020, neither of the first two states' winners went on to win the Democratic presidential nomination. And many have argued that neither state, both of which are largely white, is diverse enough to lead the nominating process.

Ross Wilburn, the chair of Iowa's Democratic Party, pushed back against this in an interview with NPR, arguing Democrats must show they can address the needs of a diversifying rural America.

"Nationally, if Democrats can't figure out how to talk to Iowans, then we're in big trouble as a party," he said. "It's no secret that the national Democratic Party has been losing seats across the country because of its weakened appeal to rural working class Americans. Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process."

Wilburn said he plans to make the case for why Iowa's caucuses remain first when the DNC finalizes its process. He also pointed to the fact that his state has given flight to upstart politicians, like the winner of Iowa's 2008 caucuses.

"Again, don't forget there would not be a President Obama without Iowa. There simply wouldn't," he said.

Chaos reigned in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 2020, as reporters pressed various campaign and election officials for why the caucus results were so delayed.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Getty Images
Chaos reigned in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 2020, as reporters pressed various campaign and election officials for why the caucus results were so delayed.

Michigan and New Jersey Democrats want to move to the front of the calendar

"Iowa showed the disaster of a caucus in the last election," said Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell, referencing various logistical and technological challenges in 2020 that made it difficult for Iowa to name the winner of its caucuses.

Dingell is already pushing for her state to get early status. Dingell's involvement was first reported by The Washington Post.

She said Michigan's status as a closely divided purple state is one of the reasons it is well positioned to be part of the early window. President Biden won Michigan by a narrow margin in 2020. In 2016, former President Donald Trump did so by an even slimmer margin.

"It's a state that reflects the great diversity of our country. We have urban areas, we have rural areas. We have manufacturing, we have farming. We have rich, different cultures, all types of backgrounds," Dingell told NPR prior to the committee's vote on Wednesday.

Similar efforts are already underway in states like New Jersey, where state party Chair LeRoy Jones has been pushing the Democratic Party to consider his state, which normally votes in June.

"We have to use the past as a barometer on how effectively we can move forward. We saw some interesting things occur in the Iowa caucuses that kind of left folks with a little eyebrows raised," Jones told NPR. "And the whole notion of the caucuses may have had its day, at least in the beginning part of the presidential primary. We think that New Jersey offers an enhanced benefit to voter engagement."

Jones said that New Jersey's diversity, as well as its relatively compact size, make it a good fit.

"You have a collaboration of population, of diversity, of tourism, of transportation ease. I think that has particular value added to the process."

Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire have argued that their size allows presidential candidates to have a chance to break through before moving on to larger states in major media markets where campaigning is more expensive.

Rules and Bylaws Committee member David McDonald of Washington state raised that issue at the committee's last virtual meeting.

"I hope that we will continue to have the upfront window be as accessible as possible to candidates and not slide into a situation where essentially we end up with four large states up front in an election decided based on mass media markets," he said.

Asked about arguments that the process should be led by small states, Dingell of Michigan pushed back.

"Why should two disparate small states that don't reflect the diversity of this country be the ones that presidential candidates go into their homes?" Dingell said. "I think presidential candidates should have to home into a state like ours and do retail politics, not hide behind an ad on TV."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.