Iowa's first primary status on shaky ground
Hoping to scare the stuffing out of your favorite Democratic activist tonight? Just show up at his or her door dressed as a 2008 presidential nominating calendar that dumps Iowa’s first-in-the nation caucuses.What's your opinion? Would letting states other than New Hampshire and Iowa essentially pick the Dem nominee be a good move? Why? What are the downsides to having these two states play such a prominent role in chosing the Democratic presidential candidate?
And don’t forget the smelling salts.
Iowa Democrats have been spooked for more than a year since the Democratic National Committee set up a commission to consider changes in the nomination calendar. The panel was formed after an Iowa-anointed Democratic dream team of John Kerry and John Edwards lost a bitter fight for the White House.
Party leaders from Michigan, New Jersey and other states turned up the volume on chronic complaints that Iowa and New Hampshire – home of the first presidential primary – are poor places to start picking a nominee. They’re too white, too rural and too cold, critics charge. And besides, they stuck us with losers.
Democrats did what they do best – they lost, searched furiously for a scapegoat and appointed a big commission. All that’s left to do now is make things worse.
After several meetings, the 40-member commission has decided that Iowa and New Hampshire should share the early spotlight with two or more other states. Ideally, those new additions would have a population of less than 5 million, a minority population of 15 percent or more and would be closely-contested “purple’’ swing states.
South Carolina often is mentioned, although President Bush’s 14-point win there hardly makes it a battleground. Nevada and New Mexico, with large Hispanic populations and tight 2004 presidential contests, are the best examples. Colorado and Arkansas also are possibilities.
The commission is scheduled to meet for the final time on Dec. 1 to vote on a revised strategy and submit that plan to the Democratic National Committee and its chairman, Howard Dean. But the Washington rumor mill already is churning out proposals allegedly being considered.
The good news for Hawkeye State Democrats is that nearly all of those rumored options keep Iowa in its traditional pole position, at least for 2008.
“If there is a consensus, it appears to be that Iowa goes first, in my opinion,’’ said Roxanne Conlin, a veteran Democratic activist and Des Moines attorney who is representing Iowa on the commission along with fellow attorney Jerry Crawford.
“I think it’s possible we will be struggling the rest of, at least, my natural life to keep our state first. I’ve been through this battle myself three times,’’ Conlin said.
New Hampshire Democrats, on the other hand, are freaking out.
Their latest bout of anxiety was sparked by a plan detailed on the National Journal’s Hotline Web site. The “leaked’’ proposal called for putting Iowa’s caucuses on Jan. 14, 2008, and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 29 while allowing two or more other states to hold caucuses in between.
Under than scenario, New Hampshire would slip to the fourth slot or worse. Granite State Democrats have vowed to fight.
But if party leaders do decide to demote New Hampshire, clearly Iowa is next. Once Democrats vanquish one half of the dynamic duo, booting the other will be effortless.
That would be bad news for Iowa Democrats who have successfully used the caucuses to build organizations, raise money and cover their walls with photos showing them arm-in-arm with party luminaries.
But the argument could also be made that Iowa, once a unique and intimate presidential proving ground, has become merely a stage prop in a national campaign that starts too soon, costs too much and offers little more than a daily drumbeat of charges and counter-charges.