Iowa Democrats left the caucuses. Instead, they will quietly choose a 2024 nominee by mail

(Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Iowa Democrats left the caucuses. Instead, they will quietly choose a 2024 nominee by mail


March 3, 2024

There’s a lot less fuss about Democrats in Iowa choosing their presidential candidate this year, and it’s not just because

incumbent Joe Biden is in the White House. President Biden is seeking re-election without serious competition.

Instead of gathering for caucuses, a one-night spectacle where community members publicly declare their support for a candidate, Iowa Democrats headed to the mailbox to mail in their ballots. The results will be announced on Super Tuesday, a series of primaries and caucuses in 16 states.

The break with five decades of tradition follows the chaos surrounding the party’s 2020 Iowa caucuses and the reshuffling of Democrats’ 2024 calendar to prioritize more diverse states. The fallout has disappointed Iowa party leaders and activists, with some sentiments ignored by the national party.

In fact, it has many concerned about the deterioration of Democratic grassroots organizing and the prospects for success in a state that has gone from purple to a Republican stronghold over the past decade.

Nancy Bobo, a longtime Democratic activist in Des Moines, was able to vote for a presidential candidate this year by mailing in her ballot, even though she was sick for the first time since 1980 and couldn’t make it to her caucus on Jan. 1. 15. Yet the change is a thorn in my side, she said.

Yes, you vote, Bobo said, but you lose all that gathering and coming together and discussing issues.

Bobo, an early supporter of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign covered the record-breaking caucus on January 3, 2008, when so many people gathered at a high school that they were forced to move from the auditorium to the gymnasium.

As Obama’s caucus chair, Bobo was responsible for pursuing her colleagues, especially those who supported candidates who did not draw 15% of the space, the threshold for Democrats to consider candidates viable.

The excitement in the air was like nothing I had ever experienced, Bobo said of the meeting. I doubt what we do now will have much impact on the national stage at all.”

Ahead of 2024, the Democratic National Committee, at Biden’s request, decided to reshuffle early voting states, prioritizing diverse voters in states like South Carolina and Michigan over predominantly white voters in Iowa. Critics, including Biden, have said the Iowa caucuses were not representative of the party.

The national party has worked with Iowa Democrats to ensure a more accessible and fair primary process and is providing financial and other resources to strengthen state party infrastructure,” a DNC spokesperson said in an email.

While more than 200,000 Iowans participated in the 2008 election that launched Obama’s ascension to the White House, that record number is a rarity for either party. Even during a contested race, caucus participation typically amounts to a modest fraction of the parties’ registered voters.

Past plans to make the caucuses more accessible to voters who are older, have disabilities, work night shifts or cannot get child care have not been realized. And then hasty revisions to the way district results were reported at the party’s request failed on the night of the 2020 Democratic caucuses, failing to declare a clear, undisputed winner.

There was a lot of drama in the way we did that in the past, said Rita Hart, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. One person’s idea of ​​excitement and drama is someone else’s total and complete chaos. What the Democratic Party really needs to focus on is excitement, but make sure it is highly productive.

While disappointed in the national party’s decision, the Iowa Democratic Party once again views the caucuses as an opportunity to rethink how we can encourage people to come out and then engage in the kinds of conversations that strengthen us as Democrats” , said Hart.

According to the party, more than 6,000 Iowa Democrats participated in the Jan. 15 caucuses, which in part focused on choosing individuals to serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

They received more than 19,000 requests for presidential preference tickets, which exceeds the number who participated in the 2012 Democratic caucuses, the last time an incumbent Democrat sought reelection. More than 11,000 had returned by Friday.

Sherry Kiskunas of Waterloo had never voted in a caucus before this year. “She was recruited in 2012 to help run her precinct caucus. Before that, she didn’t even know about them,” she said.

Even before the difficulties of 2020, Kiskunas said caucuses could be messy.

When I was vice-chairman it wasn’t so bad because I wasn’t in charge. But when I was chairman, it was terrible, she said.

She remembers counting and recounting people who migrated from one candidate’s supporters to another’s. One year, two districts in one room caused confusion.

People are getting impatient and want to leave, Kiskunas said. I want to go home too, but the count has to be correct.

Mail-in voting allowed her to vote this year. Still, the party is suffering, she said.

You have no chance to have a party. You don’t have the opportunity for the interface like we had,” Kiskunas said.

Sara Riley, an attorney in Cedar Rapids, thinks it makes sense to move away from a caucus format. She doesn’t think local involvement will decrease; instead, a primary could get more people involved.

Riley, who has volunteered hundreds of hours on presidential campaigns, says she doesn’t think the energy will simply disappear because of the changes in methodology.

Even with a different voting method, a return to the early window could continue to bring presidential candidates to the rural Midwestern state, which has a more affordable media market. The Iowa Democratic Party has said it only agreed to the changes this year, with assurances that Iowa would be among the first wave of states in 2028.

But Bobo is skeptical.

Once it’s gone, she said, I think it’s pretty hard to get it back.

Fingerhut writes for the Associated Press.


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