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Democratic National Committee Will Examine Future Of Iowa Caucuses

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, the Democratic National Committee holds a meeting. Party leaders are expected to pick South Carolina's Jaime Harrison to run the party. And a big part of his job will be positioning it for future elections. Democrats now control the White House and Congress, but by narrow margins. And it is not too early, apparently, to think about the 2024 election. One big question is whether Iowa should still vote first. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK, everyone - thank you so much for your patience. We are ready.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: It was almost a year ago when Democrats across Iowa gathered in high school gymnasiums and hotel ballrooms to caucus for the candidate they wanted to go up against Donald Trump - you know, before the pandemic, when people would gather in large groups. And remember how the Iowa caucuses went?

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LESTER HOLT: Breaking news tonight - the first results finally rolling in, but the winner in Iowa still up in the air. The chaos after a major delay in reporting the first votes of the 2020 Democratic race.

MASTERS: A new smartphone app meant to collect the results failed epically on caucus night. And the complicated rules of the caucus meant that Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders basically tied. Now-President Biden came in fourth. The Associated Press never named an official winner, and calls for Iowa to lose its place in line grew louder.

JULIAN CASTRO: I think, on its merits, that the Iowa caucus falls short of the values that we espouse as Democrats.

MASTERS: That's Julian Castro. He served as housing secretary for former President Obama and ran for president in 2020. Castro dropped out before the Iowa caucuses. But he says 2020 should be the last year Iowa goes first and that going forward, it should be a primary election rather than a party-run caucus.

CASTRO: You have basically one person, one vote instead of an arcane formula to figure out who wins the whole thing. On top of that, the diversity of Iowa and New Hampshire simply don't reflect the diversity of either our country or the Democratic Party.

MASTERS: Castro says Obama's win in Iowa that helped propel him to the White House in 2008 was wonderful, but was an exception. Even in the aftermath of the app meltdown, state party leaders still insisted Iowa should go first. Here's Iowa Democratic Party chair Mark Smith last February.

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MARK SMITH: We study the candidates very well. We give the candidates the opportunity to travel across the state and to meet with people and to hone their message as well. And so I will make a strong argument that we should keep the caucuses here.

MASTERS: All this will be up for debate once Jaime Harrison takes over the DNC. He's from South Carolina, which kicked off a series of Biden victories in the primary cycle. Harrison is best known for raising a lot of money in his unsuccessful race against Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last year. Expect a lengthy discussion about the nominating calendar, says Clay Middleton. He's a close friend of Harrison's and also a member of the DNC from South Carolina.

CLAY MIDDLETON: President Biden's going to have a say in this, too. And who better than Joe Biden to provide his assessment, having ran for president a few times and not winning Iowa?

MASTERS: One idea would be to have all the early states go closer together, says Wendy Davis, a DNC member from Georgia.

WENDY DAVIS: If you look at those four, the first four states - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada - put together, they actually are a very good picture of America - right? - and the diversity that is in America.

MASTERS: But these conversations about changing the presidential nominating calendar have happened for decades, and the debates have never really changed. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party says he's working on cementing an alliance with the other early states to preserve the current nominating calendar for his party.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX SNYDMAN'S "TELL ME A BEDTIME STORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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