California and Texas challenge Iowa and New Hampshire's dominance in the 2020 Democratic primaries
In the 2020 Democratic primaries, California and Texas voters will be asked to cast their votes on Super Tuesday, the earliest date allowed by Democratic Party rules still bent on preserving the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire. The move to March 3 will immediately transform the most populated state in the nation from also-ran to a key early battleground, but even that undersells the change: California is now a majority-by-mail state, and will actually begin mailing out those primary ballots the day of the Iowa caucuses.
That means that within a few days of the Iowa caucuses, Californians will already begin turning in their own votes for the Democratic presidential nominee. And that means campaigning is about to look considerably different.
The explosion of early voting and reshuffling of the primary calendar in 2020 could transform the Democratic presidential nominating contest, potentially diminishing the power of the traditional, tiny and homogeneous early states in favor of much larger and more diverse battlegrounds.
Iowa and New Hampshire’s early placement has given the states an outsized role in influencing first perceptions of the race; glad-handing your way to a first-place Iowa caucus finish is taken as a signal of frontrunner status, even if the concerns of Iowa voters are considerably distant from those of voters in larger states, or coastal states, or urban centers, or take-your-pick. Iowa and New Hampshire are among the whitest states in the nation—again, a poor measure of the wider Democratic Party.
But it’s Iowa’s insistence on running a caucus, rather than a true primary, that is the most grating. Rather than testing the ability of a candidate to appeal to and motivate the largest collection of voters in a state, a caucus instead tests candidate’s abilities to turn out far smaller subsets of die-hard believers. It allows candidates with poor fundraising and smaller staffs to compete, say adherents. Why, precisely, we should want to elevate candidates with poor fundraising, a smaller staff, or a more limited appeal remains, as always, subject to debate.
A more sensible system might rotate the primary calendar or assign per-state primary dates by lottery; until then, we’re stuck with the current absurdity, in which each state, large and small, jockeys for relevance in presidential primaries at the expense of every other state’s voters. So by moving California and Texas to the vote-by-mail front, what does that mean?