In race to replace Iowa, Nevada vies to vault New Hampshire as first stop on Democratic 2024 tour

·10 min read

WASHINGTON – With Iowa no longer expected to be the first stop on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination, Nevada has emerged as a potential frontrunner to take its place.

Asian American and Latino elected officials and activists are amping up their campaign to upend the way Democrats pick their presidential nominees. They want the Silver State to kick off  the party's nominating calendar.

Nevada, they say, is the only state under consideration that can deliver the representation and ballot access that is needed to send a message to the diverse Democratic base that they matter to the party. The campaign arm of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) could be the next group to lobby for the state, as the committee making the determination punted the final decision from Friday to after the midterms.

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws committee is weighing proposals from sixteen states and Puerto Rico to lead the presidential nominating calendar, a rare opportunity to shuffle the order of how Democrats nationwide pick their nominee for president. Following the uproar from the delayed results of the 2020 Iowa caucus, New Hampshire and Nevada have emerged as frontrunners for the premier first slot.

What does it take to be first?: These states want to replace Iowa on the presidential calendar

The intense behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign has come with gift bags, state-specific snacks, and personal calls from Senators to committee members.

Nevada’s backers argue that the Silver State better fits the diversity and voting access goals that the committee has said are priorities than New Hampshire, which currently holds the first primary. Iowa is expected to lose its standing largely because the state is not demographically diverse enough, so letting predominantly white New Hampshire go first wouldn't solve the issue, they said.

​​Nevada is the third-most diverse state in the country, while New Hampshire is the fourth-least diverse, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The state’s bid to host the first primary is orchestrated by former staffers for the late Sen. Harry Reid and the state party, who also argue that Nevada has greater voter access, more union participation, and is more competitive than the other early states under consideration.

But New Hampshire advocates say diversity is more than just race or ethnicity.

“Diversity is about a lot of things. It's about the economic climate. Small businesses. Nevada's very much a tourism state, New Hampshire has tourism but is a bigger small business state,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., told USA TODAY. “It's about the ethnic makeup. It's also about the economic makeup … and it’s also about the engagement.”

Delayed decision gives Nevada hope

The committee was slated to release its new proposal at a meeting in D.C. on Friday, but in a surprise announcement over the weekend pushed back the decision until after the midterms.

"Following the midterm elections, we will reconvene to update our evaluation of the applicant pool and work towards a final decision to present to the full DNC for a vote, which DNC leadership has assured us they will make happen as soon after the midterm elections as is possible," the committee’s leaders wrote in a memo obtained by USA TODAY.

More: Democrats delay decision on replacing Iowa as first to weigh in on presidential contests

Nevada’s supporters believe the move is a good sign for their chances and say it gives them more time to build their coalition of support. New Hampshire representatives argued that replacing their first-in-the-nation primary contest could be harmful to Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan's re-election campaign, and making the decision after the midterms neutralizes that argument.

“All the reasons that make us the best candidate to be the first in the nation will be true after the midterms, and so it will provide more people the opportunity to hear about why Nevada is the best state to go first,” said Yvanna Cancela, chief of staff to Gov. Steve Sisolak, a DNC member, and one of the representatives who pitched Nevada at the committee’s June meeting.

“Nevada still is in a great position to be first in the nation,” Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen told USA TODAY of the delayed decision. “I think we're in the best position to be first. It takes nothing away from New Hampshire and the tradition and history that they've had there. So what I want the DNC to do is just make the best and most thoughtful decision.”

U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) speaks to members of the press after a weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) speaks to members of the press after a weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol.

“We are a microcosm of the rest of the country if you look at the data, so the fact that they haven't outright said no to us is a good thing,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., the first Latina senator who faces a competitive reelection this fall.

Tri-caucus leaders line up behind Nevada

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC endorsed Nevada’s push for first last month.

“I don't think you can just say you can just say New Hampshire stays first and nothing changes,” BOLD PAC Chair Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., told USA TODAY.

“There needs to be something that's compromised here. The state, the country has changed. The Democratic Party has changed, and it's time that we the way that we elect our president changes also,” he said.

Gallego cited his personal experience campaigning alongside candidates in Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire in arguing for the need to show “that the Democratic Party is extremely interested in making sure that the Latino vote and Latino voters are part of the coalition to Democratic Party, that we're going to pay attention to their needs and their interests by moving this up so that way.”

“I remember when I would travel to New Hampshire, there would be the the few Latino families in New Hampshire who would be extremely excited to see me at the door and speaking Spanish  … because as they would tell me that they rarely get talked to, because not many people speak Spanish to them,” he recalled.

Outside groups like the Latino Victory Fund and Voto Latino have also endorsed Nevada's bid.

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus chair Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., also came out in support for Nevada’s bid, citing the large and growing AAPI population in the state.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“It would send such an encouraging message to Asian Pacific Islanders,” Chu told USA TODAY. “I think there's such power and potential in the API vote, and that would only be magnified if Nevada was the first to go in the presidential election.”

“Racial diversity hasn't played much of a role in the selection of the early states. So I think it's time for it to be a prominent factor,” she said. ASPIRE PAC, the political arm of the AAPI members of Congress, and the Asian American Action Fund have also backed the move.

Nevada has a strong advocate within the Congressional Black Caucus in Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford.

“The African American vote in Nevada in a presidential year is upwards of 20%. I'm the first African American to be elected to Congress from Nevada, and as the vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, I see a tremendous opportunity,” he told USA TODAY.

“I really try not to disparage other states, but the other states that were at the front of the calendar before just simply don't reflect the diversity of what America is today, and what it will continue to become,” he said. “Nevada residents deserve it, people of color in Nevada deserve it.”

The CBC’s PAC is weighing an endorsement as well.

“There is an active discussion now with the CBC PAC,” said PAC member Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who also backs Nevada.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A potential hurdle is fellow early state South Carolina, home of the powerful Democratic whip Rep. Jim Clyburn.

“There is no final decision until Jim Clyburn says that there's a final decision,” Cleaver noted. “But there are some creative ways for that issue to be addressed.”

“South Carolina is an important state that deserves to have its spot early in the process, and so I'll let him speak to where that should fall,” said Horsford. “But I am advocating of course for Nevada's first in the nation position.”

A head-to-head matchup?

While outlining the ways in which Nevada fits the bill more than New Hampshire, members of Congress are cautious about offending the state that now holds the first-in-the-nation primary.

“Nobody – nobody – is angry with the state of New Hampshire and its voters … but it's not a state that is represented by the Democratic base,” Cleaver said, noting a desire to appease New Hampshire.

“We're going to want to figure out a way to do this that does not send offensive signals to other states,” he said.

One such way to do so that is being weighed by the committee is to make New Hampshire and Nevada share the first title.

New Hampshire has been holding presidential primaries for more than 100 years, and the tradition is deeply ingrained in the state’s voters and in the way presidential campaigns operate, its proponents contend. They argue the state’s small size and history of retail politics make it an ideal launching pad for presidential candidates.

But committee member Dennis Speight expressed concern about the message it would convey to have both states go on the same day.

“I worry about the signal that sends to the Hispanic voters of Nevada … there's also Pacific Islanders and Native Americans that are there in Nevada that might feel slighted by sharing the date with New Hampshire,” Speight said.

The idea is intriguing to some.

“If it's the only option, then that brings us to closer to a solution,” Gallego said of the proposal.

“The fact that it would be first in the process, even if it is paired with New Hampshire is an improvement, a vast improvement over what's been happening so far,” said Chu.

Complicating the matter is New Hampshire’s state law, which requires the secretary of state – currently a Republican – to set the date for the primary at least a week before “the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.” Iowa previously usurped the law because it has a caucus, not a primary.

Granite state Democrats have expressed unwillingness to change the law if the DNC chooses another state to lead the pack.

'Do what's best for the whole family'

Asked at the June committee meeting what New Hampshire Democrats would do in such a situation, state party Chair Ray Buckley responded: “We don’t have the power to tell the secretary of state not to schedule the primary, so they’re going to schedule the primary.”

Some members of the committee pushed back. "I don’t like that the committee is held hostage by them and I want this committee to make a decision based on the merit," committee member Mo Elleithee said.

“New Hampshire has a law that says we must go first, ahead of any like contest” Shaheen told USA TODAY. “That’s not going to change regardless of what the DNC does.”

Sisolak signed a law last summer that would require Nevada to go first, ahead of other early states, that also transitioned the state from a caucus to a primary.

“We would work with the party to ensure that to ensure that our laws are respective of the process,” Cancela said when asked about Nevada’s next steps if the DNC did not support the move.

If the DNC does not make a significant change to the presidential primary order this year, Nevada’s advocates on the Hill see it as a major missed opportunity.

“There will be some level of disappointment but nobody's gonna leave the party,” Cleaver said.

“It's a family issue. I think everybody in the family is gonna want to do what's best for the whole family.”

Contributing: Brianne Pfannenstiel

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 election: Nevada Democrats tout diversity seeking first primary

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