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The DNC may alter the 2024 presidential nominating calendar

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Iowa has long been the first state to choose a presidential nominee. But that may change this week when members of the Democratic National Committee will decide on the 2024 presidential nominating calendar. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: How did the only Iowan in these calendar talks feel going into these DNC meetings?

SCOTT BRENNAN: Terrified (laughter).

MASTERS: That's Scott Brennan, a longtime member of the committee and a two-time former state party chair.

BRENNAN: The former head of the DNC, Tom Perez, hated caucuses, and so I knew going into 2022 that it was going to be an uphill battle the whole way.

MASTERS: But it's almost December, and Iowa is still first - for now. Members on the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee say they want states that are competitive in a general election going early. They favor primaries over caucuses and diverse states. That's a lot going against Iowa. Brennan argues the early window of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina results in Democrats winning the popular vote.

BRENNAN: That's how the process should work. Sometimes you get a Barack Obama who comes out of Iowa, and that carries him on. But if you recall, even in '08, Barack Obama won Iowa, and then Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire.

MASTERS: The state party has proposed changes to the caucuses to please the group. People would mail in presidential preference cards. They'd be counted on caucus night, when a winner would be declared. This summer, Iowa was among 16 states and Puerto Rico auditioning in D.C. to go early. Some of the members seemed interested in replacing Iowa with another Midwestern state. Here's committee member Mo Elleithee in July discussing the presentations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MO ELLEITHEE: Minnesota, I thought, was very strong. Michigan was very strong. And I give a lot of credit to Iowa for hearing the concerns of this committee and reimagining what their caucus could look like.

MASTERS: The committee planned to make a decision in August but pushed it until after the midterm. So how did the midterm go in Iowa for Democrats?

RAS SMITH: We kind of got our butts kicked across the board.

MASTERS: That's Ras Smith from Waterloo, Iowa. He's a former Democratic state lawmaker. Like he said, Democrats didn't have a great election night. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds was reelected by 19 points. Senator Chuck Grassley also won by double digits. And the last remaining Democrat in Iowa's D.C. delegation lost. Smith was a rising star. He launched a bid for governor but dropped out when he couldn't get support from his own party. He has a lot of problems with the Iowa Democratic Party but still argues the Iowa caucuses should be early in the calendar, partly because it's less costly to run here.

SMITH: Maybe this is old school, but at 35, I hold dear to the process of connecting with another human being to talk about our issues. If you lose that, then you're just paying for elections, and that's not representative of democracy, right? That's not a people-first government.

MASTERS: There's also a state law that says Iowa's caucuses have to go before any other primary election, and the Republican Legislature won't change that. There are Democrats here who don't fault the national party for wanting to move on. Vanessa Marcano-Kelly became an American citizen before the 2020 caucuses. She volunteered for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020, then caucused for him. She's disappointed national Democrats don't see the Iowa caucuses as diverse and multicultural. Ahead of the DNC meeting in December, she knows it could be the end of an era.

VANESSA MARCANO-KELLY: I wasn't part of that era for too long. I think I was only able to participate just one time. And so in the one time that I did get to participate, it's kind of a disconnect because it's like, I participated in a bilingual caucus that had child care and, you know, heard of other caucuses that were being run in four languages simultaneously.

MASTERS: The full DNC would need to finalize any decision early next year. Meanwhile, Republicans flirting with a presidential run will be spending time in Iowa with or without the Democrats.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Clay Masters is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio and formerly for Harvest Public Media. His stories have appeared on NPR