The Democratic-controlled Nevada Legislature introduced legislation last week that would alter the presidential primary calendar and bump Nevada to be first in line for the nation’s nominating contest in 2024.
The bill also moves to eradicate the state’s caucus process and change its vote to a primary that would be held on the second-to-last Tuesday in January of presidential election years, putting direct threats on Iowa and New Hampshire’s generational roles of being the first states to vote in the presidential nomination process. The Democratic effort will likely see approval and be signed off by Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), but the Democratic National Committee will ultimately decide which state goes first in the nomination process—a verdict that will probably not be fully decided for another year.
Democrats lined up behind the initiative, including former Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who has been pushing for the change for more than a year, argue that Iowa and New Hampshire don’t reflect the diverse electorate due to the states’ large white population. Moreover, they argue that Iowa botched its handling of the 2020 caucuses—a process that took a week to determine who won.
“Well if you look at Iowa and New Hampshire and you look at how Joe Biden did in those two states—he took fourth and fifth in those two states. Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the country. There’s no diversity. So it’s unfair, in my opinion, to have those as the first two primary states because it really gives the wrong impression of what the country is all about,” Reid told The New York Times.
And beyond racial diversity, Reid argued that there’s a strong presence of union membership among Nevada voters compared to Iowa and New Hampshire voters, adding that “the West is now heavily populated and is taking over being the center of our country.”
Reid went on to say that South Carolina should be another early state in the election process, even though Nevada and South Carolina are already among the First Four states posted on the primary calendar.
Democrats outside of Iowa and New Hampshire have echoed Reid’s concerns, as they’ve suggested that presidential candidates should redirect their focus from those traditional early states to a more diverse population in states like Nevada and South Carolina.
“The general case against Iowa and New Hampshire is that they do not represent the present or future of the Democratic Party. They are both overwhelmingly White in the party that is relying heavily on the votes of Latinos and African Americans,” Dave Peterson, political science professor at Iowa State University, said. “Iowa faces other challenges because the caucus system is somewhat archaic and can limit participation.”
Nevada and South Carolina are also small enough in terms of population size, so a presidential candidate can efficiently and easily compete there.
The Nevada legislation posed a real warning for Iowa and New Hampshire political operatives in what could develop into turmoil over the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Tom Perez, the former DNC chair, has voiced support for the change, contending, “this is the Democratic Party of 2020. It’s different from the Democratic Party in how we were in 1972. And we need to reflect that change. And so I am confident that the status quo is not going to survive.”
But key players haven’t gone public over the issue, including President Joe Biden and DNC Chair Jaime Harrison.
In early February, White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted that it was “too soon” to cover the outline of which states will vote first for the next presidential primary but said they are “all great states” and that the White House’s initial focus is not the primary calendar. It’s important to note, though, that Iowa and New Hampshire, states that Biden ranked in fourth and fifth place, respectively, didn’t deliver him the nomination for the party. Democrats see Biden’s nomination in South Carolina—along with Rep. James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) endorsement—as the victories that ultimately ramped up his national support to be the party’s 2020 nominee.
There are attempts from both sides of the aisle, however, to modify the primary calendar nearly every election cycle, according to experts.
“There is a discussion about the nomination calendar every cycle,” Peterson said. “The results of the 2020 cycle only heightened this as Biden did quite poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire before turning things around in South Carolina. That makes it harder for the first two states to effectively argue that they should stay the first in the nation.”
Douglas W. Jones, Iowa caucus expert and associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, said that arguments to change the nominating calendar occur “every four years.” He added, “Complaints range from ‘Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative’ to ‘Super Tuesday is a travesty’ to ‘nobody should be able to seal their nomination before the final primary.’”
And some experts have insisted that states like Iowa are more diverse than what voters think.
“Nevada and South Carolina were moved into the First Four contests to ensure that the earliest states were more representative of the country as a whole. When one looks at the demographics of the four states as a group, they are fairly representative of the country, including being geographically representative,” Karen M. Kedrowski, director of Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said. “While the demographics of Iowa don’t lie, they also don’t reflect the racial diversity of several urban centers, a growing Latino population, and an increasingly diverse economy. Iowa is more like the rest of the nation that it’s given credit for.”
In Iowa and New Hampshire, political operatives have started to prepare their defense of the war that’s expected to take place, as Iowa’s state Democratic Party chair, state Rep. Ross Wilburn, told Politico that he is “prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Iowa first in the nation.” New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, also lined up behind Wilburn’s defensive rhetoric, pleading that neither party’s committee will determine when the state will vote, Politico reported.
“The status of the primary was not given to New Hampshire by the parties,” Gardner told the publication, referring to a state law that forces New Hampshire to have a primary at least seven days before a “similar election” in another state.
Iowa, too, has a similar law, but it must hold its caucuses at least eight days before another state’s nomination.
It’s unclear when Biden or the DNC will come down on either side of this intra-party calendar division, since no public statements have been released on the issue.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.