Iowa Republicans threaten to move caucuses if Democrats change schedule

<span>Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP</span>
Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Few in the US would suggest that the presidential election process should last even longer than it already does, but that is exactly what may happen if Republicans in Iowa follow through with a recent threat.

Related: Where was Ivanka when Donald launched his campaign? Looking after number one | Arwa Mahdawi

In an interview this week with NBC News, Iowa’s Republican party chair said he would be prepared to move the state’s caucuses – the process Iowa uses to identify its preferred presidential candidate – “to Halloween” should Democrats shake up their primary schedule.

Iowa has long been the first state in the nation to cast its vote in the Republican and Democratic presidential primary processes, but Democrats are exploring the idea of holding their first ballot elsewhere in 2024.

Clamor has been growing in the party for a different state, with a population more representative of the US as a whole, to be given the first go, with Democratic officials in Michigan, in particular, pushing for the state to be moved up in the primary calendar.

Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee made changes to its primary process, which could allow states other than Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states which have voted first since 1972, to kick off the ballot.

The potential usurping of Iowa has left Republicans in the state furious.

“This is the Democrats that are pulling this crap and I’m telling you right now, they don’t want to play chicken with me. This is pure, progressive, power politics,” Jeff Kaufmann, the chair of the Iowa GOP, told NBC News.

“If, for some reason, California and New York dictate policy for the entire DNC and they give the middle finger to Iowa and the midwest – if that happens, we will be first,” Kaufmann said.

“I’ll move this thing to Halloween if that’s what it takes.”

Given the first vote is usually held in January, Kaufmann’s threat has the appearance of hyperbole, yet since Kaufmann also heads the national Republican committee, as NBC reported, that oversees its presidential schedule, he would potentially have scope to change the date of the Iowa caucuses.

After changing its rules in April, in July the DNC postponed a vote on whether Iowa and New Hampshire should continue to be the first states in the calendar. According to US census data, 84% of Iowans identify as “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino”, and 89% identify the same way in New Hampshire. Nationwide, 59% of Americans identify as “white alone”, according to the census.

The Michigan primary was held on 10 March in 2020, by which time only three candidates – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, remained in the race. Biden won the Michigan primary convincingly, and carried the state in the presidential election.

Democrats in Michigan have since been lobbying to be moved forward in the calendar, and that case was strengthened by results there in the midterms. Democrats gained control of the state house and senate for the first time in 40 years, and Gretchen Whitmer retained the governorship.

Going first in the primaries brings prestige and exposure, with TV channels and newspapers providing daily updates from early states for weeks, and also brings a financial boost in the depths of winter. The Daily Iowan reported that campaigns spent $7.2m in Iowa in January 2020 alone – 14.7% of the state’s entire gross domestic product for that month.