Politics

02.19.14

Democrats Are Ready to Let Hillary Deliver a Knockout Blow in Iowa

As the GOP revamps its presidential primary schedule, Democrats are content to keep the Hawkeye State going first. Is that because a Clinton win there would effectively seal her nomination?

The schedule for the 2016 Democratic presidential primary is likely to look a lot like 2008’s calendar.

Although the GOP made significant changes to its presidential primary schedule in January, Democrats seem quite satisfied with how things worked in 2008, the last time that the party had a competitive presidential primary.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee is due to meet at the end of February in Washington, D.C. to kick start the planning for the 2016 presidential nomination process, which will be finalized by the early fall. The expectation is that any changes will be comparatively minor without any of the sturm und drang that attended the 2008 primary when squabbles over the timing of the Michigan and Florida primaries helped drag the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama into June.

Iowa has become infamous as one of two states never to elect a woman as governor or to federal office.

This year, according to Jim Roosevelt, one of the chairs of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, there isn’t “a lot of interest” in a dramatic change in the Democratic primaries. The 2008 primary was considered to be huge success for the party, producing a winning nominee and energizing the party’s base while identifying millions of new general election voters. The big issues will be how much to adjust to the new schedule adopted by the GOP, with an early convention and ultra-strict penalties that try to hold earlier primaries than allowed.

In particular, one aspect of the calendar that Roosevelt “doesn’t see any support” for changing are the early states, particularly that of Iowa, whose first-in-the-nation caucuses are a perennial target of skeptics within the party. In particular, with pundits regarding Iowa as inherently unfriendly territory for presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, it could raise a new line of potential attack for those qualms about the Midwestern state’s outsize influence or the caucus process itself.

However, Clinton’s weaknesses in the Hawkeye State have been hugely overrated. The former Secretary of State had the second highest number of caucusgoers in Iowa history come out to support her in 2008. Her only problem was that Barack Obama was the only candidate to ever do better. Furthermore, while Iowa has become infamous as one of two states never to elect a woman as governor or to federal office—something which is more of a quirk based on Iowa’s long history of backing incumbents than a misogynistic electorate—this has never been an issue Democratic primary electorate that has repeatedly backed female candidates.

But the perception of this vulnerability, regardless of how accurate it might be, may have made the caucuses even safer. After all, even the slightest public debate about the future of the caucuses, would be interpreted as a huge sign of weakness for Clinton, whose campaign famously contemplated not playing in Iowa in 2007. As one knowledgeable observer pointed out “why give the chattering class something to chatter about?” As the field stands right now, Clinton would likely be able to seal the Democratic nomination simply by winning the caucuses in 2016. This doesn’t mean the nominating process, even in Iowa, will remain identical to that in 2008. Roosevelt said, “I think there’s a lot of interest in trying to figure out an absentee component for caucuses.” This would apply not just to Iowa, but all caucus states including Nevada, with a goal of at least allowing service members to participate.

These aren’t the only changes. In addition to dealing with allowing absentee ballots for caucuses and adjusting to the RNC’s rules changes, there are other anticipated issues ranging from the role of the controversial super-delegates to particular local issues like the “Texas two-step,” the two-pronged method of electing delegates from the Lone Star State that includes both a primary and a convention. But these changes aren’t huge changes; just the DNC nibbling around the edges.

After all, while Republicans may have serious concerns about their nominating process after a 2012 campaign where candidates like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain were frontrunners at various point, Democrats don’t. And if their nominating process ain’t broke, why fix it?