Who Votes First? Diverse Nevada Argues for a New Primary Lineup

Source: By Emma Kinery, Bloomberg • Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2021

Nevada wants to leapfrog Iowa and New Hampshire and hold the first U.S. presidential nominating contest in 2024, a move that would give the racially diverse state with powerful labor interests an early opportunity to shape the race for the White House.

A bill with broad support is moving through the Nevada legislature to change the contest to a primary from a caucus, and move the date to early January from late February, before Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally vote. It’s expected to pass by the April 20 legislative deadline, said State Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson.

“New Hampshire isn’t entitled to automatically go first; we need to be having a real conversation about inclusion and diversity instead of a privileged argument about their tradition,” said former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevadan who’s spearheading the effort. “If a candidate is able to win in a state like Nevada, they show real viability in an election, because Nevada’s representative of the rest of the country.”

The contests to choose the parties’ presidential picks are run by the national Republican and Democratic parties, which decide whether to recognize delegates to the nominating conventions. The national entities would have to be on board with any change to the calendar.

Disastrous Caucus

Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire say they won’t alter their calendars just because Nevada enacted a law changing theirs. Republicans in those states declined to comment.

Iowa’s disastrous caucus in 2020, when technical problems left the country waiting days for results in the traditional “first in the nation” nominating contest, gave Nevada the opening it needed.

The move would upend the plans — and priorities — of presidential hopefuls. Many spend months, or years, attempting to gain visibility among voters in New Hampshire and Iowa.

The primary calendar awards outsized influence to early states to influence the political agenda and drive policy. In Iowa, 31% of the state’s economy depends on agriculture and it has long used its position on the calendar to extract promises from candidates it might not otherwise get, like support for ethanol subsidies.

In Nevada, sizable interests in casinos and mining, large tracts of public lands, and powerful unions could push labor and land-use issues to the top of the agenda if candidates depend on the state to get the momentum they need to move forward.

Racial Diversity

It would also mean candidates would have to address racial and immigration issues. Iowa and New Hampshire are both about 90% White, versus the U.S. as a whole at about 60%. According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data, Nevada is 48% White, 29% Hispanic and 10% Black. It is also 9% Asian-American with the fastest-growing such population in the nation.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Nevada would be a powerful choice for the first nominating contest because of its racial diversity and economic issues.

“Nevada, with the culinary and construction workers, the unions and the workers’ issues would be addressed — issues like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and improving unsafe working conditions,” he said.

The eventual 2020 Democratic nominee, now-President Joe Biden, came in fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire before minority voters in Nevada helped to push him into second place. He then won South Carolina — and the momentum to secure the nomination and, ultimately, the White House — with the endorsement of influential Representative Jim Clyburn and the overwhelming support of Black voters who dominate the Democratic Party there.

New Hampshire’s Law

Nevada, however, can’t simply jump ahead in line.

The Iowa caucus became first in the nation for Democrats in 1972 and Republicans in 1976.

New Hampshire, which has been the first primary state since 1920, has a unique law that requires its primary be held a week earlier than any other in the country. Iowa got around this by holding a caucus, but part of Nevada’s proposal includes switching to a primary from a caucus.

“We are going to continue to let the process play out, as it does every four years, and look forward to hearing the insight and recommendations from all interested parties on the 2020 reforms and on the 2024 calendar at the appropriate time in the process,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement.

The RNC didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Ross Wilburn pushed back on the idea that his state isn’t diverse enough to kick off the nominating process.

“Iowa does have diversity,” Wilburn said. “There are diverse constituencies across the state and as a person of color myself, I can let you know that it’s important that the Democratic Party not disenfranchise the diversity that we have here in the state of Iowa.”

Less than 4% of Iowa’s population is African American; about 6% is Latino.

Challenges to New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary status aren’t new, said Ray Buckley, the state’s Democratic Party chairman.

“We have gone through this before over many decades, and we have successfully navigated the waters and continued to be the first in the nation primary,” he said. “We suspect that we will continue to do that in the future.”