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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

July 12: Iowa Republicans Stumble on the MLK Holiday to Begin Their 2024 Presidential Contest

We now have a starting point for the 2024 presidential nominating contest, and the date seems to have been something of an accident, as I observed at New York:

It’s official: Republicans’ first-in-the nation Iowa Caucus is set for January 15, 2024. That means the voting phase of the 2023 Republican presidential-nomination contest will begin in about six months, on a federal holiday.

Iowa Republicans have given themselves an unnecessary headache by scheduling their caucus to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. State chairman Jeff Kaufmann claims they did this without “considering it.” Now Kaufmann is trying to spin the miscalculation as a “tribute” to MLK, but it won’t be a good look for the famously non-diverse Republicans of Iowa to be engaged in full-time presidential politicking when others are reflecting on King’s provocative and progressive legacy. The burden of defending that decision will likely fall, ironically, on the two Black presidential candidates competing in Iowa, Tim Scott and Larry Elder.

While the specific date of the Iowa Caucus had been up in the air until now, the GOP calendar was expected to start early in 2023 owing to some failed efforts by other states to displace Iowa and New Hampshire. Some of this maneuvering was encouraged by the Democratic National Committee, which felt freer to tamper with the calendar as its 2024 contest isn’t competitive. The big development for Republicans was the Nevada legislature’s vote to create a February 6 presidential primary, which led New Hampshire’s secretary of state to move its primary to January 23. Iowa’s decision maintains the traditional eight-day gap between Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina Republicans (who do not have to vote on the same day as Democrats) will round out the early states with a primary on February 24. Then other states are free to hold primaries or caucuses beginning in March.

So we are once again virtually guaranteed a snowy-evening launching point for the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Iowa Republicans have a significantly simpler caucus process than the opposition; Democrats’ convoluted if time-honored system of affinity groups, delegate-equivalents, and multiple votes crashed the Democratic caucuses in 2020, contributing to the DNC’s decision to take away the state’s first-in-the-nation status and ban presidential caucuses altogether. Republicans just show up, hear some speeches, eat a few cookies and vote for their presidential favorite in a straight balloting that’s easy to tabulate. Perhaps with the excess time a moment to commemorate a conservative take on the MLK legacy will be obligatory in 2024.

Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats will likely have caucus meetings on January 15. But in deference to the DNC’s wishes, they are not inclined to complete or announce any votes on presidential preferences or the allocation of any delegates on the traditional caucus night. It appears they will have a separate vote-by-mail process for their real decisions, which will be announced when the initial phases of the presidential-nominating contest are safely past. So Joe Biden will not have to compete in rogue Iowa caucuses, and if Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Marianne Williamson happen to show any strength in Iowa, we likely won’t know about it until Biden has romped to victory in sanctioned primaries.

All the national attention, then, will be on the Republicans engaged in an individual struggle for survival and a collective effort to keep keep current front-runner Donald Trump from wrapping up the 2024 nomination before the first warm weather of spring arrives.

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