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January 10, 2024

[NY Times] Iowa Nice vs. New Hampshire Ornery: A Tale of Spurned Democrats

When President Biden shook up his party’s presidential nominating calendar, Democrats in the two states that were bounced from the front of the line reacted in far different ways.

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When President Biden shook up his party’s presidential nominating calendar, Democrats in the two states that were bounced from the front of the line reacted in far different ways.

New Hampshire Democrats are going down kicking and screaming, insisting on holding a primary as if they hadn’t just lost their opening spot.

Iowa Democrats, ashamed by a 2020 fiasco that included a dayslong wait for results that were nonetheless riddled with errors, have meekly accepted their fate as primary season also-rans.

In what is perhaps a case study in Iowa nice versus live-free-or-die New Hampshire stubbornness, one state is showing that it views its quadrennial parade of visiting presidential candidates as a political birthright, while the other appears to see that spectacle more as a lost perk.

“The Iowa Democrats have made a mistake,” said David Scanlan, the New Hampshire secretary of state, a position that has long been the ex officio guardian of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary status. “They’ve lost it for this year, and now the chain is broken.”

Mr. Scanlan’s flinty resistance to changing New Hampshire’s primary date to suit party bosses in Washington has bipartisan appeal in the Granite State. Anyone involved in politics there can cite the 1975 state law requiring the state to hold the nation’s first presidential primary contest, codifying what is now a century-old tradition.

New Hampshire and the Democratic National Committee are still quarreling over the state’s refusal to move its primary back. On Friday, the national party wrote to New Hampshire Democrats saying that the state’s “meaningless” primary could “disenfranchise and confuse voters.” The New Hampshire attorney general replied on Monday with a cease-and-desist letter saying the D.N.C.’s “meaningless” categorization violated the state’s voter suppression laws.

Iowa has a much shorter history of going first, starting in the 1970s: The first president to owe his victory to the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Mr. Biden has little political loyalty to either state. In 2020, he placed fourth in Iowa’s caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. It was a victory in South Carolina, which he has now moved to the front of the Democratic calendar, that propelled him to the party’s nomination and ultimately to the White House.

This year, New Hampshire is holding an early primary anyway, with 21 Democrats on its presidential ballot on Jan. 23 — but not Mr. Biden, who skipped the state. Rule-following Iowa Democrats, by contrast, will hold a mail-in primary and have until March to return their ballots.

“As soon as Biden became the nominee, the writing was on the wall,” said Pete D’Alessandro, who was a senior Iowa aide for Senator Bernie Sanders’s two presidential campaigns. “The grieving process had a little longer to go through, so we’re probably at a later stage than New Hampshire.”

Iowa Democrats have long suspected that their time as a presidential proving ground was up. Even before the 2020 caucus-night meltdown, there were grumblings from inside and outside Iowa about how a nearly all-white state had such influence over how a racially diverse party picked its presidential nominees.

While some old-timers cling to a hope that Iowa can regain the first spot in the 2028 cycle, a belief is growing among younger Democrats that the caucuses are a distraction from local organizing work, and that the party’s 2020 presidential candidates presented a left-wing vision of Democrats that helped lead to wipeout Republican victories in the state that year and again in 2022.

“Iowa Democrats are really disappointed,” said Tom Miller, a former Iowa attorney general who was one of the first elected officials in the state to endorse Barack Obama in 2008, and then backed Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana in the 2020 caucuses. “The future is certainly not good.”

New Hampshire’s opposition has paid off with a series of visits from ambitious Democrats. Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Representative Ro Khanna of California, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York and others have trekked to New Hampshire in recent months to address voters — just in case it might be useful down the road.

The path to Iowa has been less traveled, with Gov. Tim Walz of neighboring Minnesota making a couple of trips, including for last summer’s Iowa State Fair.

New Hampshire Democrats argue that it is obvious to future presidential candidates that the road to the White House still runs through the state’s town halls and diners. Mr. Scanlan on Monday pronounced himself unimpressed with South Carolina’s anointed spot at the front of the Democratic primary calendar.

“I did a Google search for what kind of activity is occurring in South Carolina, and there really isn’t a lot of news there,” he said in an interview on Monday that took place at the exact moment Mr. Biden was delivering a campaign speech in South Carolina. “The only real action is in New Hampshire.”

Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire harbor dreams — most likely to be unrequited with Mr. Biden in the White House — that when the rules for the next presidential primary process are set, they will regain their spots.

Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, predicted that the state’s fight for its place on the 2028 calendar would be much more intense than it was for 2024, with Mr. Biden’s renomination viewed by most of the party as an academic exercise.

New Hampshire’s plan to win over D.N.C. members in the next cycle, Mr. Buckley said, would involve rallying the party’s progressive members, who remember that Senator Sanders won the state’s primary twice — even though he did not go on to win the nomination either time.

“It’s not a secret that the establishment was very angry with New Hampshire for Bernie Sanders winning in 2016 and 2020,” Mr. Buckley said. “I think you’ll see a response from the progressive community across the country.”

Iowa’s comeback plan is, as one might expect, a bit more polite.

The Iowa Democratic chairwoman, Rita Hart, said she believed there would be “a level playing field” when it came to bidding for the early primaries in 2028. She said she did not expect Mr. Biden to put his thumb on the scale for South Carolina at Iowa’s expense.

“We’ve had some really tough conversations with the D.N.C.,” she said. “We would not be where we are right now if we had not gotten reassurance that in 2028 we’ll have every opportunity to get back into the first tier.”

Scott Brennan, a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman who was involved in the party’s losing bid to retain its early slot in 2024, said that unlike New Hampshire Democrats, if Iowa Democrats did not get their first-in-the-nation slot back, they would accept that decision.

“I think we’ve earned the right to be there,” Mr. Brennan said. “If for nothing else, because the process gave us Barack Obama as president twice.”

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