Longstanding opposition to Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two Democratic nominating contests is reemerging with unlikely messengers: A presidential candidate and deep-pocketed potential White House aspirant are flouting the states’ first-in-the-nation roles.
Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro said Sunday that Iowa and New Hampshire should no longer be the first states to vote.
“The Democratic Party’s changed a lot,” Castro, the only Latino candidate seeking the presidency, said on MSNBC. “Demographically, it’s not reflective of the United States as a whole, certainly not reflective of the Democratic Party, and I believe that other states should have their chance.”
Former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who filed paperwork last week to appear on Alabama’s March 3 Democratic primary ballot but has not officially announced a presidential bid, reportedly plans to skip campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire if he runs. Instead, he would focus on Nevada and South Carolina, which have the third and fourth statewide nominating contests on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, respectively, and March 3rd Super Tuesday states.
While Joe Biden is campaigning in the first two states, the former vice president’s staff has publicly suggested he will be able to win the party’s presidential nomination without claiming first place in either one, pointing to a strategy of appealing to voters Super Tuesday states and beyond.
State laws and Democratic National Committee rules preserve the first-in-the-nation nature of the Iowa caucuses, to be held in 2020 on Feb. 3, and New Hampshire primary, scheduled for Feb. 11.
The two-state contests assign a modest number of delegates relative to other states at the Democratic National Convention, who ultimately decide the party’s presidential nominee. But the pair’s first-in-the-nation traditions, dating back to 1972, provide Iowa and New Hampshire with an out-sized influence on the primary process due to media attention and momentum for candidates who win the first contests.
Candidates generally spend more time campaigning in the two states than anywhere else and participate in local photo-op worthy traditions like the Iowa State Fair.
Critics say that Iowa and New Hampshire, however, are more rural and have a larger proportion of white people than the rest of the country. White people, who are not Hispanic or Latino, make up about 60% of the United States as a whole but about 85% of Iowa’s population and 90% of New Hampshire’s, according to the Census Bureau.
Party chairs from the two states condemned Bloomberg’s expected strategy and Castro’s comments, arguing that their residents take their long-standing responsibility to vet candidates seriously.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said in a statement Friday that he was “disappointed and frankly very surprised” to hear of Bloomberg’s plans to skip campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire. “It’s unfortunate that Michael Bloomberg doesn’t want to participate in this invaluable, important, and unique primary process and be tested the same way that the other Democratic candidates have been and will be,” he said.
Buckley said of Castro Monday that he “can imagine he is frustrated” — Castro, cash-strapped, has between 0% and 3% support in most recent national polls — “but blaming his campaign’s challenges on the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire is a bit much.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price pointed out that Castro last month signed a pledge to keep Iowa’s caucuses before any other state in order to participate in the state party’s Liberty and Justice forum.
“All candidates that come through Iowa and New Hampshire will be stronger and better prepared for the general election because of the strong history of grassroots organizing and retail politics,” Price said Sunday.
Castro’s press secretary said that while the candidate signed the pledge, he will not be “held hostage to tactics that indefinitely prevent reform to an antiquated system that doesn’t reflect our nation or our party’s diversity.”
The candidates are not the first to overtly or subtly challenge Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s status.
Then-Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and future Rep. Debbie Dingell wrote in a 2008 op-ed that Democratic leaders in their state elsewhere have “long questioned the stranglehold Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential nominating process.”
Kathleen Sullivan, a New Hampshire DNC member, defended the states’ special status.
“There have been arguments against the early states every four years, but I think the DNC has done a good job recognizing the need for diversity by including Nevada and South Carolina in the pre-window, along with Iowa and New Hampshire,” Sullivan told the Washington Examiner.
Other higher-polling candidates, who have spent great gobs of time and resources campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, disagreed with or ignored questions about changing the state nominating contest order.
“I think that the role of all four early primary states really creates that balance and makes sure that candidates have to visit different kinds of states and speak to diverse constituencies,” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Monday, adding that he values the “special role that New Hampshire plays.”
And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren demurred from the topic when asked in an interview.
“I’m just a player in the game on this one,” Warren said on Friday.
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