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New Jersey Democrats may want to knock Iowa off the top of the presidential calendar

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison addresses the DNC Winter Meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 10 in Washington, D.C.
Anna Moneymaker
Getty Images
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison addresses the DNC Winter Meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 10 in Washington, D.C.

Iowa — for some reason, you have to go there if you want to be president.

For generations, the state's caucuses have been the first proving ground for presidential aspirants. But, at least for Democrats, Iowa's time in the sun may be over after the debacle the state party produced in 2020.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee began to consider ways to reorder its primary contests in order to better reflect the racial makeup of its voters.

Iowa and New Hampshire, where the nation's second nominating contest is held, are both more than 90% white. Democratic voters are about 40% non-white.

"Our party is best when we reflect the people we are trying to serve, and it's just as plain as that," Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said at a meeting last Friday.

No formal process has been adopted for states to petition for an early spot on a new calendar, but the most eager have already pitched their hat in the ring anyway.

This week, the chair of the New Jersey State Democratic Party, LeRoy J. Jones, Jr., sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee asking to be among the nation's first primary contests.

"New Jersey is as diverse as any state in the nation, with a population that is 15% Black, 10% Asian American, and 21% Latino," Jones wrote. "This striking level of diversity makes New Jersey truly representative of the Democratic Party and the current and future American electorate."

Practicality was also central to New Jersey's pitch. Candidates spend inordinate amounts of time campaigning in the early states — then-candidate Kamala Harris memorably remarked to a Senate colleague "I'm ****ing moving to Iowa" — and Jones is hopeful that the party could take ease of campaigning into consideration.

"Our state is noteworthy for its compact size as the fourth-smallest state in the nation, which would save candidates valuable travel time and resources and encourage the kind of retail campaigning that has always been a hallmark of the Democratic presidential primary process," he wrote in the letter.

The order of the primary shapes the narrative of the race

Whatever the Democratic National Committee decides is likely to have a big impact on the narratives that form around the presidential candidates.

The results of 2020's Iowa caucuses were famously muddled, but then-candidate Joe Biden came in a distant fourth behind candidates who were considerably more popular with white voters.

Biden finished fifth in New Hampshire three days later. For three weeks, he faced questions about whether he would end his campaign.

And then came the endorsementof Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, one of the most prominent Black politicians in the country, and a resounding victoryin that state's primary — Biden beat the second-place finisher by nearly 30 points in the 2020 primary with a sizable portion of Black voters.

"When this campaign was at its lowest end, the African American community stood up again for me," Biden said in his victory speech nine months later. "You always had my back, and I'll have yours."

Despite not having an earlier say, Black voters in South Carolina still set the course for the 2020 Democratic nominating process, amplifying the doubts inside the party about its primary calendar.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.