Leave the Iowa Caucuses alone

November 20, 2022 9:27 am

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at Simpson College in Indianola Oct. 20, 2019, while campaigning for the 2020 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Robert Leonard)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.I looked over the shoulder of the chair of the Marion County, Iowa, Democratic Party, who was also a caucus official, and watched as she keyed in the results from one caucus location in Knoxville, Iowa, that fateful night, Feb 3, 2020.

She poked her finger at the keyboard on her iPhone, once, then again, harder. She paused, and then turned to another official sitting to her left, said something, showed her the screen on her iPhone, and then looked back at me.

“It isn’t working,” she said.

“What isn’t working?” I asked over the din of the 40 or so people packed into the Knoxville Public Library.

“The caucus app,” she said. “The damn caucus app isn’t working.”

That caucus night was, in the eyes of the media, an absolute disaster. It didn’t matter that there were processes in place for results to be tallied in case of a wide variety of circumstances, even if they had to be hand-delivered to party headquarters the next day; the voracious appetite of the media demanded instantaneous answers. And, in the end, we did do our job. We winnowed the field.

Iowa Democrats now wait with bated breath to see what the Democratic National Committee says about whether or not we shall be allowed to continue to hold our first-in-the-nation caucuses. Republicans remain committed to holding their caucuses in Iowa and showed support for the Democratic caucuses the morning after that fateful night. They are standing strong, and Democrats should too.

In part because of this caucus “failure,” the Democratic National Committee is reconsidering our status but has decided to wait until after the midterms to decide what the future holds for the early caucus and primary states. It’s now after the midterms, and the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet December 1-3 to consider the fate of the caucuses, with the final decision to be made in early 2023 by the full DNC.

Iowa Democrats should tell the Democratic National Committee to stuff it. Tell them we’ll hold our Iowa caucuses, both Democratic and Republican, when we want to. So should the other early states.

The 2020 Iowa caucuses failed because the DNC and then-Chair Tom Perez orchestrated it. Perez wanted the caucuses to fail and made it happen. They shoved a problematic app down our throats without enough testing. The Nevada caucuses had enough forewarning and abandoned the same app. We should have too, but hindsight is 20-20.

In a post-caucus analysis, an independent audit commissioned by the Iowa Democratic Party found the national Democratic Party “aggressively interjected itself” into the 2020 caucuses, slowing and complicating the process on caucus night. Sure, there is plenty of blame to go around, but the report concluded, “Without the DNC’s intervention in that process, the IDP may have reported results in real-time as it intended …”

DNC staff members declined to be interviewed for the audit.

Declined to be interviewed?

Iowa Democrats are tired of the DNC meddling in the Iowa electoral process. They have had enough of their so-called “beauty contests,” where they invite potential candidates to Washington to see who they are going to finance in the primaries. It hasn’t worked out so well.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is a disaster for my state. Schumer said Democrats won’t be able to win the Senate race in Iowa. They didn’t, but about the same time Schumer made his remarks, the highly respected Des Moines Register Iowa Poll had former Navy Vice-Admiral Mike Franken within 3 percentage points of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. Franken ended up losing by 12 points, in part because Schumer handed talking points to Iowa Republicans, who milked them until Election Day.

We need to ignore the DNC and hold the Iowa Caucuses, as required by state law:

“Delegates to county conventions of political parties and party committee members shall be elected at precinct caucuses held not later than the fourth Monday in February of each even-numbered year. The date shall be at least eight days earlier than the scheduled date for any meeting, caucus, or primary which constitutes the first determining stage of the presidential nominating process in any other state, territory, or any other group which has the authority to select delegates in the presidential nomination. The state central committees of the political parties shall set the date for their caucuses.”

So, shall we break state law, to appease the DNC, who broke the caucuses? To concede our historic role in the presidential nominating process?

No. What is the DNC going to do to us if if we go ahead? Not pick the candidates before Iowa gets to consider the field? Withhold money they don’t give? How about sanction presidential candidates who participate in the historic Iowa caucuses? Not seat our delegates at the convention? Like they tried to do to Florida and Michigan in 2008 when they moved up their primary calendars? They compromised and gave those state delegations half of a vote because they “broke the rules.” Iowa didn’t break any rules. Instead, the DNC is changing the rules to break Iowa. And here I thought Democrats wanted everyone’s vote to count.

The Iowa Democratic Party needs to recognize the power they have and say now that we will hold the 2024 Iowa caucuses. If the DNC threatens sanctions of some sort, call their bluff. They have no real power.

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, with the Storm Lake Times Pilot, recognizes the consequences of the DNC killing the caucuses.

“Here’s a great way for Democrats to permanently alienate themselves from rural America, where they’re already getting clobbered: Throw the Iowa caucuses into the ditch.”

It wasn’t long ago when Barack Obama emerged victorious from the Iowa caucuses. Obama would arguably never have been president without the Iowa caucuses. People will say, but Iowa is a red state now. Maybe. But that’s an even better reason to continue the historic tradition. Let our presidential candidates hone their messages here, and they will be better prepared in other red and purple states. And maybe turn Iowa blue.

Democrats should be proud of the Iowa caucuses, not seek to destroy them. And Iowa Democrats shouldn’t comply if the DNC seeks to usurp their role.

Robert Leonard’s column appeared originally at “Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture.” It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Robert Leonard
Robert Leonard

Robert Leonard is the author of the blog "Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture," on Substack. He also hosts a public affairs program for KNIA/KRLS radio in the south-central Iowa towns of Knoxville, Pella, and Indianola. His columns have been published in the New York Times, TIME, the Des Moines Register and more.