Could a Nevada primary predate the Iowa caucus?

By: - June 10, 2021 8:00 am

People get signed in and prepare to caucus at the Muslim Community Organization in Des Moines. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa has hosted the first-in-the-nation caucus since 1972, drawing scores of politicians to fairgrounds, barbecues and local party meetings months before the primary process kicks off. 

But after technical problems with the Democratic caucus in 2020, some are calling for Iowa to take a step back on the calendar. Nevada lawmakers in late May began the process to unseat Iowa from its first-in-the-nation status, passing a bill that would change Nevada’s process from a caucus to a primary and, hypothetically, allow it to leapfrog from third to first in the nominating calendar.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, told reporters Wednesday that she had not spoken with Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak about his plans for the legislation. Sisolak, a Democrat, has not yet signed the bill into law. 

Reynolds said that Iowa’s Democratic and Republican parties were working together to keep Iowa’s place on the calendar.

“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to maintain it and I have confidence that we will,” Reynolds said. 

How would Nevada’s bill change the primary calendar?

Nevada’s AB 126 would change the state’s caucus into a primary and set a date ahead of Iowa, which holds the first caucus in the nation, and New Hampshire, which holds the first primary.

But several steps remain before the Nevada bill could actually change the presidential nominating calendar. If Sisolak signs the proposal, the national Democratic and Republican parties would need to approve the change. Neither the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee have endorsed the idea so far.

Nevada Republicans joined GOP leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in opposition to the bill on Tuesday.

“As the GOP leaders of the four carve-out states, we want to make clear that we stand together in protecting the presidential nominating schedule as it has existed for many years,” the state party chairs said in a joint statement.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn told Axios in February that Iowa is “a critical piece” in shaping and preparing Democratic candidates. 

“We are prepared to do whatever it takes to retain first-in-the-nation status,” Wilburn, a state representative for Ames, said.

National Democrats, however, have expressed mixed feelings about the Iowa caucuses retaining their hallowed spot. After the disastrous 2020 Iowa caucus, former DNC chair Tom Perez called for an end to the caucus system. Former presidential candidate Julián Castro, as he campaigned in Iowa, said the first state should be more diverse to better reflect America’s demographics. Castro also advocated for primary elections, rather than complicated caucuses. 

In a statement to Reuters, current DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said the party will set the calendar “at the appropriate time.” Wilburn told Axios that Harrison wouldn’t discuss the primary calendar until late summer or early fall. 

Early stages of 2024 already beginning in Iowa

Although the future of Iowa’s caucuses remain uncertain, potential 2024 players are already scoping out the state. Several high-profile Republicans former Vice President Mike Pence, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Des Moines next month for a conference with conservative group The Family Leader

Reynolds on Wednesday said that Iowa remains uniquely qualified to kick off the presidential process.

“Anybody can come to Iowa regardless of their background and have a fair shot,” she said. “Iowans show up, they ask good questions.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.