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Iowa Democrats plan January caucus with delayed results to comply with new party primary calendar

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Iowa Democratic Party on Friday announced it plans to hold a caucus on Jan. 15 but won’t release the results until early March, retaining its state’s leadoff spot on the presidential nominating calendar without violating a new national party lineup that has South Carolina going first for 2024.

The Republican Party of Iowa already scheduled its caucus for that day, which falls on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. But while the GOP’s caucus will kick off voting in the party’s competitive presidential primary, Democrats will only meet in person then to participate in down-ballot races and deal with nonpresidential party business.

Democrats’ presidential contest will instead be held by mail throughout January and February, with party officials not releasing the results until Super Tuesday on March 5.

“We believe this delegate selection plan is definitely a compromise,” Rita Hart, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said on a conference call with reporters.

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The change is part of a larger overhaul to revamp the state’s Democratic caucus after 2020 when technical glitches sparked a meltdown that left The Associated Press unable to declare a winner.

Iowa Democrats’ new plan comes after President Joe Biden asked the national Democratic Party to change the traditional order of its primary and let South Carolina go first. He sought to empower Black and other minority voters critical to the party’s support base while suggesting that in-person caucusing, which requires participants to gather for hours on election night, discouraged turnout among low-propensity voters and should be abandoned.

The DNC subsequently approved a new primary calendar for 2024 with South Carolina’s primary kicking off voting on Feb. 3, followed three days later by New Hampshire and Nevada, the latter of which plans to swap its caucus in favor of a primary. Georgia would vote fourth on Feb. 13, according to the plan, with Michigan going fifth on Feb. 27 — before most of the rest of the nation votes on Super Tuesday.

At its meeting in St. Louis — hours after initial announcement of the plan — the Democratic National Committee’s rule-making panel voted Friday to move Iowa into conditional compliance with the new party rules. Full approval can come after final logistical details have been worked out.

The change is meant to comply with a new law signed in June by Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds requiring in-person caucuses. But it seeks to do that without violating the order of primary voting set out in the DNC’s new calendar, Scott Brennan, who represents Iowa on the rules committee, told members.

“It is vital small, rural states in the heart of the Midwest have a voice in this process,” Brennan said. “Democrats need our diversified rural communities to ensure future electoral victories.”

The issue is largely moot for 2024 since Biden is seeking reelection and faces no major primary challengers. But the DNC is again planning to examine revising its primary calendar for 2028, meaning what happens next year could shape which states vote early in the presidential nominating process for years to come.

States with early contests play a major role in determining the nominee because White House hopefuls struggling to raise money or gain political traction often drop out before visiting places outside the first five. Media attention and policy debates concentrate on those states, too.

Since the new calendar was approved in February, New Hampshire has rejected it, saying its state law mandates that it hold the nation’s first primary — a rule that Iowa got around in previous years by holding a caucus. Georgia also won’t follow the new order after the state’s Republicans declined to move their primary date to comply with Democratic plans.

Democratic officials in Iowa, by contrast, have said for months that they were working on creative ways to preserve a first-in-the-nation caucus without violating new party rules.

Hart said that the national party has assured state Democrats that the new plan means Iowa could again be among the first states on the 2028 presidential calendar — when the Democratic primary will be competitive and states going first will receive far more attention from candidates and the rest of the political world.

“We know who our nominee is here in 2024. We know that President Biden is going to be our presidential nominee,” Hart said. “What’s really important is that we put ourselves in a good position for 2028.”

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