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Iowa Democrats make case for keeping first in the nation caucus status

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (KWWL) - Iowa Democratic Party leaders took their fight to keep the Iowa Caucuses first in the nation to the nation's capital on Thursday. State party leaders made their case for an early spot in the presidential nominating process in a presentation to the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee.

For the last half a century, the DNC has granted waivers to allow Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to hold their contests first on the nominating calendar.

In April, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee approved a plan that could shake up the presidential nominating calendar.

The party's new plan prioritizes more diversity, competitiveness and feasibility. Iowa is one of 17 that applied to hold early primaries. This week, they are making their case to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee. Party officials will pick up to five to go before Super Tuesday.

Wilburn, Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst and Scott Brennan, a member of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee from Iowa, made a case for why Iowa should keep its top spot.

"The four states that have been holding their pre-window contest since 2008. represent an intentionally well balanced of our party's values and priorities and when taken together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said. "The pre-window affords presidential candidates and campaigns a unique opportunity to connect with voters distributed across cities, suburbs, small cities, towns and rural agricultural in ways that the other states simply can't."

Members of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee have expressed an interest in moving to more diverse and competitive states earlier in the nomination process. Iowa has long been criticized for not being diverse enough. According to the 2020 census, the state population is 85% white.

Iowa Democratic leaders highlighted growing diverse communities in Iowa at public schools and significant Latinx populations in rural counties. According to the State Data Center of Iowa, Wilburn said a total of 13 counties are more than 10% Latinx.

"While numerically concentrated in some of Iowa's larger counties. They also represent significantly larger proportions of populations in smaller rural counties," he said. "It gives candidates a unique opportunity among the pre-window states to engage with rural Latin X communities."

In a press conference after the presentation, Wilburn said he believes Iowa's representatives made a strong case.

"I know there's a diversity was a question that the media and some committee members had expressed concern about coming into this," Wilburn said. "I think we did an effective job of outlining the strong diversity that we have in Iowa and diversity in its broadest sense."

Wilburn added that he believes Iowa is a crucial state if Democrats want to reach rural, working-class voters.

The Republican National Committee kept its nominating process as it currently is, meaning Iowa will stay first in the nation on the Republican side. Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann led a national committee looking into the Republican nominating schedule. At the time, Kaufmann said the current order was the best to ensure geographic diversity and competitiveness. Iowa will lead off the Republican nominating calendar, followed by New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

"Every time a Republican candidate comes to Iowa and visits the district of one of my members or one of my candidates, they are building and organizating on the other side. They are building enthusiasm and engagement among voters, and that will not change," Konfrst said. "The caucuses are a fundamental organizing tool that allows us to maintain competitiveness in a part of rural America."

Iowa law requires that both parties hold their caucus no later than the fourth Monday in February, but it is not prescriptive for how the caucuses are conducted. In their letter to the DNC, Iowa Democrats vow to make "significant procedural changes" to allow more people to participate in the caucuses.

Under the proposal, Iowa Democrats would send in "Presidential Preference Cards."

Voters would then have 14 to 28 days to mail the cards back or place them in a drop box leading up to the caucuses. A party official would then announce the results on caucus night.

"We've left ourselves open to the concept of a hybrid, but if we do the Presidential Preference cards, it would be done by mail," Brennan said. "Then on your caucus day, we would do what we've always done: an organizational meeting. We would elect delegates and do the party business."

He said there are still parts of the proposal that are not set in stone but will be a "robust, non-present participation."

"There could be the possibility of, if a county wanted to have a Dropbox, if we're working for a vendor, then someone can drop their ballot off," Wilburn said. "If we work with a public or a private entity in terms of collecting, tallying and reporting to us the results of those. At this time, that is not fully developed."

Wilburn said the Presidential Preference process would be separate from the delegate selection, prompting a few questions for clarification from committee members. Wilburn said he meant there would be a deadline for when the presidential preference cards are gathered and tallied before delegates are selected.

New Hampshire and Nevada went first and made their case to the DNC on Wednesday night. The other 15 states will take turns presenting throughout Thursday and Friday. They have 15 minutes to speak to the committee and then 20 minutes for the committee to ask questions.

"Certainly, other states are making the cases, but no one can make the case that they've been doing the First in the Nation caucuses for decades. We have the organizational structure, we've evolved as the voter, and the electorate has evolved. We continue to have the best ability to implement these caucuses because we have decades of experience doing so," Konfrst said. "We still are in the best position to be the first in the nation caucus. The test is the best for presidential candidates who need to learn how to organize and do retail politics, and how important it is for Democrats to continue to fight in states like Iowa, instead of walking away."

Asked about what happens if Iowa is not selected to go first, Iowa Democratic leaders said that is not something they are thinking about.

"We didn't come here to run for second place. We came here to be first and stay first," Konfrst said. "We are not thinking about what happens if we don't go first. Because we're planning to go first."

The Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet next in July. They will deliberate and vote on a presidential nominating calendar in early August. In September, the full DNC will vote on their recommendation.

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