AMAC Exclusive – By Barry Casselman
After decades of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary being the first formal events of a presidential nominating cycle for both major political parties, the Democrats have moved South Carolina up to be their first primary, and President Biden has asked that state caucuses be eliminated for the selection of delegates to their national convention.
It is the latter, the abandonment of caucuses, that I have advocated for many decades. As I learned from living in Minnesota, where both parties hold caucuses, they are very undemocratic and became instruments of activist minorities in promoting candidates and policies which often do not have the support of most of the voters in their own parties. Intended to increase grass roots involvement, caucuses almost immediately were routinely overrun by small numbers of activists who otherwise could not prevail in the regular election process.
In the case of Democrats, they refined the caucus further, enabling small groups to combine to vote for candidates and policies even less likely to have majority support. The informal structure of caucuses often has also led to a lack of transparency.
The use of caucuses, for this reason, has been declining across the nation, but now only primary elections will work for Democrats.
Taking away their primacy has inevitably angered Iowa and New Hampshire, each of which enjoyed months of national attention and much campaign spending every four years. But Iowa is now a completely red state, and New Hampshire is so small that it makes little difference in presidential election strategy. In the case of Iowa, their botched 2020 Democratic caucus certainly didn’t help their cause. In 2020, South Carolina was the pivotal state in reviving Mr. Biden’s then sinking candidacy, and by now making that state the first primary in 2024, he is clearly trying to reward his supporters there.
The Democrats have further decided that the Nevada primary will follow South Carolina by one week, and that Michigan, New Hampshire and Georgia will also be early primary states. With many more delegates at stake in the other early primaries, most Democratic candidates will likely skip New Hampshire.
Republicans have already decided to keep Iowa as their first 2024 event. Iowa Democratic officials have vowed to schedule their caucus before the South Carolina primary, but now no Democratic presidential candidate will participate in it.
Mr. Biden increasingly is signaling his intention to run for re-election in 2024, something that appeared to be very unlikely only a few months ago. His policies, age, and unsteady public appearances had driven his poll numbers to chronic unfavorable levels. Many Democrats then, and even now, would like to replace him at the top of their ticket with someone else, but the recent 2022 midterm election results have given the president a second political wind.
In the usually-accurate Rasmussen Poll, Biden recently has even risen to favorable territory by one point — although most of the establishment polls still show him down by high single or low double digits.
If Mr. Biden chooses to run, he cannot assume he will be not be challenged by someone in his own party, especially if it appears likely that Republicans will nominate someone other than Mr. Trump, but he will have a considerable advantage from the scheduling of South Carolina as the first primary.
The impact on the Republican presidential nominating process remains unclear, especially since the GOP has not altered its traditional primary calendar. Former President Trump, the only announced GOP candidate, might benefit from keeping Iowa and New Hampshire early, but his campaign so far has been overshadowed by the 2022 mid-term results and by the apparent sudden boost in grass roots interest in Governor Ron DeSantis following the huge GOP success in the Florida mid-term elections. DeSantis now even leads in some state polls.
The rapid decline in the number of caucuses and the changing primary calendar is undeniably going to have considerable impact on the 2024 election cycle. Although the motivations for making the changes so far were primarily self-serving, the result has been a more democratic (small “d”) and transparent process.
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