Discussions over how to change the early state order for future Democratic presidential primaries are still in the earliest stages, but one thing is already clear: Nevada wants to replace Iowa as the first-in-line state. And Nevada Democrats want it badly.
Nevada Democrats have been vocal for years about their desire to replace Iowa with their state. Recently, Senator Jacky Rosen has been urging Democratic National Committee officials to make it happen. Before he died, former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid was doing the same thing. And now, as the committee charged with considering changes to the calendar begins that process, Nevada Democrats have been circulating a glossy brochure among DNC members on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the panel in charge of changing the order of states, laying out their case.
The brochure, obtained by The New Republic, hits many of the points Democrats have said they want to see in a new state kicking off the Democratic primary contests, and it hits all the criteria contained in a draft memo circulated earlier this month among committee members for adding a new state to the early state pool: diversity, competitiveness, and administration.
Those points weren’t officially requirements meant to knock down Iowa from its first in the nation status. But they effectively do that—especially the last one. Since the chaotic 2020 Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, where there was no clear winner immediately after voting ended, the wide expectation in Democratic circles has been that Iowa would finally be replaced by a more capable and fitting state. Iowa is largely rural and white, after all.
A few states have already made their interest clear: New Jersey, Michigan, and Nevada. But Nevada’s brochure clearly intends to make a preemptive case. It argues that the state’s “Ethnic and Racial Diversity Reflects the Country”; that “Nevada’s Mix of Rural and Urban Population Reflects the Country”; that “Nevada Is a Battleground State That Provides a True Test of Viability”; and that “Nevada Has a Strong and Politically Active Union Membership.” The eight-page brochure also argues that Nevada has been the leader in “Expanding Voting Rights and Voter Access.”
Nevada’s demographics are pretty close to the national average, according to recent Census Bureau figures. The state is 73.9 percent white and 10.3 percent Black. The Hispanic or Latino population in Nevada makes up 29.2 percent. By comparison, 76.3 percent of the United States population is white, 13.4 percent is Black, and 18.5 percent is Hispanic or Latino.
The brochure adds that another reason for Democrats to privilege the Silver State is that they’ve been on a Vegas-like hot streak there lately. “While Nevada is a classic purple state based on its political partisanship and makeup, Democrats have consistently won victories up and down the ticket since 2008, thanks in part to strong candidates and a robust electoral infrastructure and operation that supports Democrats,” the brochure concludes. “Democrats now hold the Governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats, 3 of the 4 U.S. House seats, majorities in both houses of the legislature and 5 of the 6 constitutional offices. Democratic presidential nominees have won the state in four consecutive elections.”
Those are pretty convincing arguments, but competing states have similar attributes. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell has been leading Michigan Democrats’ efforts to make a bid for their state. Michigan has many of the same traits as Nevada: Democrats have won there, but it’s hardly infertile ground for Republican candidates, the state is diverse, and there are both rural swathes and major cities. New Jersey’s Democratic State Committee Chairman LeRoy J. Jones Jr. has also written a letter to the DNC advocating for his state to get the lead spot.
It’s still early in the process. DNC members are expected to approve a change that lets any state or territory make a bid to move its nominating contest to the beginning of the calendar. Other states are expected to make a bid, and those states are in the early organizing stages.
The broader point here, represented in this brochure, is not just that this is the most serious attempt to change the primary calendar in years, it’s that the criteria for whichever new state jumps up in the order are changing as well. Future presidential elections will kick off with at least one state with a larger minority population and a recent history of Democrats winning statewide office in competitive races.
The argument is that it better prepares the eventual presidential nominee and also includes the Democratic voters who make up the core of the party. To have representative contests, the Democratic and Republican early states should be very different. Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white, and white voters still comprise a big majority of the Republican Party. Democrats want their first presidential primaries to be in states that reflect their party, so Iowa and New Hampshire don’t fit the bill anymore. But we have yet to see what Iowa and New Hampshire will have to say about that.