Iowa Democrats offer ‘significant’ caucus changes in bid for first-in-the-nation status

IDP chair says ‘caucuses need to change with the times’

By: - May 4, 2022 1:11 pm

Local Iowa Muslims from the Des Moines community fill out their caucus card at the Muslim Community Organization in the Drake neighborhood on Feb. 3, 2020. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Democrats offered to change the caucus process Wednesday, part of a bid to retain the state’s first-in-the-nation status amid opposition from the national party.

“We recognize that caucuses need to change with the times,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn wrote in a letter to the Democratic National Committee. “What worked in 1976 is not the best practice for a 21st-century democracy.”

The DNC voted last month to reconsider the presidential nominating calendar, potentially knocking Iowa from the lead-off spot. The new calendar will prioritize diversity, competitiveness in a general election and the fairness, inclusivity and transparency of the process. States, including Iowa, may apply for an early spot.

State Representative Ross Wilburn of Ames is also chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

Wilburn sent a letter Wednesday to declare Iowa’s candidacy for the initial contest. The letter does not include specific information about how the party might alter the caucus to better fit the DNC’s criteria, but an Iowa representative on the DNC rules and bylaws committee said “significant procedural changes” were possible.

“We recognize that changes must be made in order to make the caucuses more straight-forward and accessible,” said Scott Brennan, a former Iowa Democratic Party chair and an Iowa representative to the DNC. “And we indicate in the letter that we are willing to make significant procedural changes, as well as expand ways to participate.”

Brennan suggested the party might simplify the caucuses by reconsidering the realignment process or allowing for remote participation. Wilburn said “it’s fair to say that everything’s on the table,” especially as the DNC continues to refine its criteria for early state applicants.

Read more: New Hampshire Democrats race to pull first-in-the-nation primary from uncertainty

Brennan expects Iowa will be invited to argue its case to the full committee in late June.

“The Iowa caucuses have a long and proud tradition as an important early contest in the presidential nominating process,” Brennan said. “And we will point out the ways in which Iowa brings unique and necessary attributes to the presidential nominating process.”

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously in April to keep the nominating calendar the same, with Iowa at the very front. Wilburn said the state parties are united in their effort to keep Iowa at the beginning of the calendar.

“Republican presidential candidates are already visiting Iowa, and as far as the press and the public are concerned, that means Iowa is first,” Wilburn said.


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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.