Not much will change if Iowa stands its ground on caucuses

December 3, 2022 8:00 am

A television monitor shows a statement from the Joe Biden campaign raising concerns about the delay in caucus results in 2020. (Iowa Capital Dispatch photo)

Word came Thursday that President Biden was trying to take Iowa out of its first-in-the-nation starting position for the presidential nominating process for Democrats.

Turns out he’s not a big fan of caucuses in general either.

Update:  The Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws panel on Friday voted in favor of Biden’s recommendation to start the nominating calendar in South Carolina, followed by Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan. 

The state’s rightward dive into Republican extremism doesn’t help much either. Why start in a state with that atmosphere? Why start in a state that stopped being even a swing state some time ago. It’s almost like expecting Republicans to start their nominating process at an AFL-CIO convention.

Also, Biden’s history in the state looms large. He has never done well in the Iowa Caucuses. He also had his biggest gaffe in Iowa while competing in the caucuses, one that ran him straight out of the 1988 race. It came in a speech during a multi-candidate debate at the Iowa State Fair that sounded suspiciously — as in pretty much word for word — like one delivered in England by Labor Party Leader Nile Kinnock.

Politically, there are little but bad memories and bad history for Biden in Iowa and therefore no reason to expect him to do anything to protect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.

I love the Iowa Caucuses. I worked for the the Iowa Democratic Party as its communications director during the 1984 caucus cycle. I also love the idea of Iowa Democrats looking over the field first — in a state that is small enough to allow a close inspection by good folks.

But, even I have to acknowledge that a reasonable case can be made that things have changed over time, that the party has changed, and that the caucuses — which are a lengthy, cumbersome, often confusing and LONG process on caucus night may have outgrown what they were originally intended to do.

That case to be made may not be necessarily a decisive one, but it is certainly a reasonably strong one on which reasonable people can argue either side.

  • The bottom line, however, is that regardless of what the DNC does, in the end, it will be Iowans and the 2024 Democratic candidates who really decide this.

This is not the first time the DNC has tried to move Iowa out of the way. The last serious effort was in 1984 and Iowa and New Hampshire — also under threat that year — both went ahead anyway.

DNC threats of sanctions proved hollow.

My guess is not much will change.

If Biden runs again, that may alter the equation, and my prediction, a bit. But even if he does, it’s going to be irresistible for any Democrat who challenges him — if anyone does — to begin their run with an early effort in Iowa, if the state stands its ground again and goes ahead with its first in the nation caucuses.

“Yogi Berra used to say, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

With regard to the first in the nation status for the Iowa Caucuses, believe me, this is far from over.

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Barry Piatt
Barry Piatt

Barry Piatt has had a front row seat for state and national government and politics for over 50 years, working first as a political reporter in Iowa, and later as a senior advisor for members of the U.S. House and Senate and candidates for U.S. president. His blog, Barry Piatt on Politics: -Behind the Curtain, is on Substack.