Why are Democrats leaving the Iowa Caucuses?

Democrat Pete Buttigieg gives a speech during the Iowa Caucuses.

After 50 years, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has recommended Iowa lose its first-in-the-nation status. But not only that, Iowa won’t be in the first 5 early states at all. Laura Belin, Editor and Publisher of Bleeding Heartland, Iowa’s progressive news source, explains the reasons for this historic and tragic shift.

The recommended calendar of South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Michigan leave out Iowa. What happened?

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Why Democrats Are Ending The Iowa Caucuses

A few factors may be at play in this decision. President Joe Biden didn’t do well in Iowa and he is the one driving the change. The new recommended schedule came from Biden himself. He finished 5th in 2008 and 4th in 2020. Iowa is no longer the swing state it used to be, and there were some accessibility and diversity concerns.

Biden didn’t do well in Iowa. He finished poorly in the state, but also finished 5th in New Hampshire, which has also looks to be losing its first primary status challenged. And because Iowa is no longer the swing state it used to be that may be a reason too.

“I personally believe that South Carolina is in there because the South Carolina primary in 2020 gave such an important boost to Joe Biden that he wouldn’t want to eliminate them from the early states.” Belin said. “South Carolina isn’t really a swing state, it’s not competitive in the general election, but it’s there right now because it was so important to Joe Biden.”

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Democrats poor performance in Iowa during the 2022 midterms are likely playing a factor, Belin explained.

Accessibility may be a concern as well. While it’s true the Iowa Caucuses are a 50-year running institution, many Iowans haven’t been able to participate. Because caucuses require your presence in the room, naturally some people can’t participate. Although, it’s worth pointing out the Iowa Democrat Party did try to develop an app to help with these concerns, which was rejected by the DNC. That interference from the DNC made national news.

Diversity is also a key factor driving the decision, says Belin. Democrats point out Iowa demographics don’t reflect the nation. Black Americans make up 26% of South Carolina’s population vs just over 4% of Iowa’s population. It’s important to point out, however, in the USA Black Americans makeup 12% of the population. So neither state accurately represents the USA.

It’s interesting to point out however, Iowa was a significant part of President Obama’s campaign. Politico writer Glenn Thrush writes “It’s the birthplace of his hope-and-change phenomenon.” Quoting President Obama it was “the most satisfying political period in my career,” he says — “what politics should be.”

Iowa Democrat Party App Woes

Iowans will remember the 2020 Iowa Caucuses Debacle resulting from an app that was supposed to be used to determine the caucus winner. At the time, The Iowa Democrat party was embarrassed on the national stage and took its share of lumps, resulting in the resignation of state party chair, Troy Price. But later it was determined that DNC meddling ing was the real reason for the problem.

Iowa Law Conflicts with DNC Primary Schedule

Despite potential penalties, Iowa Democratic Part chair, Ross Wilburn said Iowa will go first anyway. Iowa law states Iowa must hold a caucus 8 days before any other caucuses and primaries. The DNC can approve the calendar, but Iowa has to hold causes because of state law. But how meaningful will it be when all potential Presidents avoid the state? 

Anyone who hires staff here gives speeches, or spends money will potentially be penalized be losing delegates. Possible exclusion from Presidential primary debates. Wow. Many people don’t remember, but the reason for this is because of a 2008, Florida and Michigan attempted to jump the line and go ahead of Iowa. This ended with Barack Obama taking his name off the ballot in Michigan not to violate the calendar. 

Is the DNC leaving out rural Iowa?

Speaking to The Des Moines Register, Ross Wilburn chair of Iowa Democrat Party stated the DNC’s decision leaves rural Iowans out of the process. “Small rural states like Iowa must have a voice in our presidential nominating process,” said Wilburn. “Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party for a generation.” 

Scott Brennan, the only Iowan on the DNC Rules and Bylaws committee feels the same way. Speaking to KCCI he echoed statements from Wilburn saying this leaves rural American out, also stating Iowa will continue to go first despite DNC recommendations. Except for a small corner of Michigan, two entire time zones of the country are left out. Belin disagrees.

Belin says opponents of this decision, and Republicans, are likely to paint this as a “coastal elite against the midwest,” and concedes Michigan is more rust belt than midwest, however she does point out that much of South Carolina is rural. “South Carolina is about as rural as Iowa. I think it’s about 34% of the South Carolina population lives in rural aread, and 35% of the Iowa Population,” said Belin. “I get that there’s is this rhetorical thing that ‘the Democrats are turning their backs on rural America,’ but the truth is that South Carolina has a lot of rural areas, there are a lot of rural voters in places like Michigan and Georgia.”

Belin does agree this likely won’t help Democrats in their struggle to win back rural America.

Iowans Ask Great Questions. Will other states pick up the slack?

Belin does agree Iowans ask incredible questions. In the past she has often been amazed at how substantive Iowans questions are, especially compared to the national press. Iowa is unique, and if the caucuses end, she hopes other states will become just as sharp. 50 years of history is a heck of a thing to turn around and Iowans are comfortable talking politics. There is a highly engaged subculture in Iowa that drives this discussion. Is that over? Time will tell.

Laura Belin, Bleeding Heatland.
Laura Belin, Bleeding Heatland. Photo Credit: Lauren Campbell Photography

Laura Belin, Editor of Bleeding Heartland

Laure Belin is the Editor and Publisher of Bleeding Heartland. Read her piece on how democrats could have saved the causes, check out the KHOI Radio archive of her talks, find her on Substack, and follow her on Twitter at @LauraRBelin

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