Rita Hart: National party’s decision to drop Iowa’s caucuses is not a ‘done deal’

By: - January 30, 2023 5:10 pm

National Democrats' decision to drop the Iowa caucuses is not a "done deal," Iowa Democratic Party chair Rita Hart said Monday. (Image by Spxchrome/Getty Images)

While the Democratic National Committee plans to ratify the new presidential nominating calendar in Philadelphia this week, the Iowa Democratic Party’s new chair, Rita Hart, said the early state lineup is not a “done deal.”

“There’s many facets of this decision-making process that have got to be figured out, as we see the, you know, situation here in Iowa, where we’re going to follow state law, and other states are struggling with those kinds of decisions as well,” Hart told reporters Monday.

Rita Hart is chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Democratic Party)

Hart did not clarify whether she supports holding the caucuses first in defiance of the DNC calendar. The national party could strip delegates to the national convention from states that do not comply with its rules, but it also could waive penalties later, for example at the behest of the party’s nominee.

Hart said she would continue conversations both with the national party and with Iowa Republicans — who will hold their party caucuses first in 2024 — to put Iowa in the best position, while making “practical decisions.”

“This is one place where the Republicans and the Democrats are both working together, and I appreciate that,” Hart said. “I am looking forward to having a concerted front to work on Iowa’s best interest here in this case.”

The DNC is requiring most states to hold their presidential nominating contests between March and June but for decades, both national parties have given certain states permission to hold earlier contests. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary traditionally have led the lineup, but the DNC is considering a plan to drop the caucuses, push New Hampshire into third place and give early slots to two new states.

National Democrats will vote Feb. 4 on whether to give early primary dates to South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan, in that order. But Democrats in New Hampshire and Georgia have run into trouble meeting some of the DNC’s requirements for holding early contests. Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire are unwilling to change a state law requiring it to hold the nation’s first primary and Georgia’s Republican secretary of state is unwilling to hold two separate primaries.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws committee gave New Hampshire and Georgia an extension to June 3 to prove to the national party their states could meet the DNC’s goals for the early state nominating calendar. The committee will meet again after that deadline to review whether the states met the party’s requirements, or if their early voting waivers are void.

Iowa Democrats pointed to the two states’ struggles as a reason why Iowa should be returned its first-in-the-nation seat, with former IDP Chair Ross Wilburn requesting consideration for a conditional waiver in early January.

The newly elected chair is taking over at a difficult time for Iowa Democrats. Not only did the DNC propose to dump the caucuses, but Republicans saw major victories in both Iowa’s state and federal elections in the 2022 midterms.

In addition to working toward keeping the caucuses first, Hart outlined a plan on how Democrats can start winning Iowa elections again, with a focus on year-round organizing investments in specific counties and legislative districts the party sees as winnable territory, candidate recruitment and more aggressive communications and fundraising strategies.

Some Democrats expressed concerns that Iowa Democratic candidates will suffer in future elections if Republicans continue to host the first-in-the-nation presidential contest while Democrats do not. Hart said she is not looking at that as a concern “until we know exactly what’s gonna be happening in the future.”

Hart at an IDP chair debate last week that Iowa needs to put out a plan that “people can get behind” in order to move forward in the fight to keep the caucuses first. But on Monday, Hart said she was focused on hearing from those already working to keep Iowa first.

“This is an issue that if lots of people have been working on for a long time, I’m not going to second guess or have new solutions to this,” she said. “But I am looking forward to this week to learn more and to work with these people on a good solution for Iowa.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.