Has the Democratic Party outgrown Iowa and New Hampshire?

Democratic presidential candidates Julián Castro speaks at an AFL-CIO forum Aug. 28.

Should the Democratic Party change its primary voting process so that states with more diverse voters are given precedence over majority-white places like Iowa and New Hampshire?

The question, which has been asked before, was given new life as presidential candidate and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro addressed it head on.

“We can’t say to black women, ‘oh thank thank you, you’re the ones powering our victories in places like Alabama and in 2018′ and then turn around and start our nominating contest in the two states that barely have any black people in them. That doesn’t make sense,” Castro told CBS News. “We can’t, as a Democratic Party, continually and justifiably complain about Republicans who suppress the vote of people of color and then turn around and start our nominating contest in two states that, even though they take their role seriously, hardly have any people of color.” 

Laura Martin, the executive director of PLAN Action, said Castro is exactly right. Though Democratic candidates often tout black women as the backbone of the party, Martin added that black voters’ input isn’t always reflected on indicators like polling data or the nomination process itself.

According to data from Governing magazine, Iowa is around 10 percent non-white and New Hampshire is less than 10 percent non-white. Yet, the states are first and second when it comes to voting in the nomination process. 

Nevada is more than 50 percent non-white, which people note is more reflective of the Democratic Party.

Donna West, the chair of the Clark County Democratic Party, said Nevada’s diversity could actually benefit candidates because they could test policy proposals on a broader group of voters.

“We look like America,” she said. “I feel the underlying point (Castro was making) is maybe it’s time to shake things up.”

Castro has led on a few other issues — he was the first presidential candidate to oppose the City of Las Vegas ordinance banning homeless people from sleeping on sidewalks prior to seven other candidates weighing in.

“It actually shows leadership, and he is using his platform to get people to pay attention,” Martin said. 

Some have noted fear of backlash from Iowa voters as a reason candidates might not comment on the voting order. Martin said she has recently has talked with progressive groups in Iowa and New Hampshire, and neither seemed upset by the subject. 

A September survey conducted by the Des Moines Register found caucus goers divided on whether the state should keep its first spot or switch to a primary — caucuses often prevent people from participating — at the risk of voting later.

The over-emphasis on Iowa, Martin said, often comes at a cost to Nevada voters. Too often she said candidates have to cancel or reschedule events so they can return to campaigning in Iowa. 

Millions of dollars are poured into Iowa by the Democratic Party, despite the fact it never goes blue during a presidential race. “Iowa has given us people like Chuck Grassley while (Nevada) has given the first Latina Senator,” Martin added.  

Martin said Nevada would be a good first state, but so would a place like Colorado. The point is, it’s at least worth considering.  

Castro, who has never polled better than low single digits, and is polling at 1 percent in recent Nevada polls, hasn’t met the qualifications to appear in the Nov. 20 debate. But West wonders if his comments on reconsidering the voting order will make an appearance.

Nevadans have a chance to ask that question to candidates as soon as this weekend, since 13 candidates, including Castro, are expected to speak at the Nevada Democratic Party “First in the West” dinner Nov. 17. 

“It’s a good question for (the candidates),” Martin said. 

But tradition — because Iowa and New Hampshire have always been first — “isn’t a good answer.”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.