Iowa Republicans voted Saturday to hold their first-in-the-nation caucuses on January 15 next year, setting up the earliest start of the presidential nominating process since 2012, when caucusgoers gathered on January 3.
The State Central Committee of the Iowa GOP met Saturday and voted unanimously on the date.
Amid plans by Iowa Democrats to conduct their presidential preference vote by mail, following a disastrous 2020 caucus, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement that his party remained “committed to maintaining Iowa’s cherished First-in-the-Nation Caucuses.”
He also said the Iowa GOP is looking forward to “holding a historic caucus in the coming months and defeating Joe Biden come November 2024.”
January 15 next year coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal and state holiday.
Kaufmann said at a virtual news conference Saturday that while the holiday wasn’t the main reason the date was chosen, it comes with advantages, and the party, during the Saturday meeting, had addressed questions related to facility availability.
“If you look at what the other states in our carve-out system have done, January 15 was the earliest, most natural date in its progression,” Kaufmann said. “In today’s discussion, I think the fact that it is a federal holiday and I think the fact that as Republicans, we see this as honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, in terms of having a caucus here, certainly both of those advantages were a part of our conversation.”
Caucuses in Iowa have been held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day before, including the Democratic contest in 2004.
While there are still several moving parts, the schedule for next year’s early 2024 Republican nominating contests before Super Tuesday on March 5 is coming into focus.
The New Hampshire primary, which under state law must be held before any other primary, doesn’t yet have an official date but is expected to be the second contest on the GOP calendar, before the end of January. Nevada Republicans plan to forgo their state’s presidential primary (at least for the purposes of awarding delegates) and hold caucuses in early February, Alida Benson, the party’s executive director, told CNN.
South Carolina Republicans decided last month to hold their primary on February 24, which would be a slight change from recent Republican calendars, when Nevada was the last of the traditional “first four” early states to vote before the first major day of primaries on Super Tuesday.
The Michigan GOP is advancing a plan to split its nominating process between the state-run primary on February 27 and caucuses on March 2, although that plan would need special approval from the Republican National Committee to avoid sanctions.
Idaho Republicans are also planning caucuses on March 2, the first day most states are allowed to vote under national GOP rules. Republicans in the US Virgin Islands say they’re going to hold a caucus no later than March 2 but haven’t announced a final date.
With as many as seven or more GOP contests taking place over the seven weeks before Super Tuesday, the early 2024 primary calendar will be more drawn out than it has been recent years. A longer gap between states could have made it a challenge for candidates who perform poorly in one state to have the resources to make it to the next.
Republican state parties are required to submit their plans to the RNC by October 1, so it’s possible even more states could hold contests before March 5.
The early start date for the Republican Iowa caucuses is also a partial result of changes Democrats are making to their primary calendar – changes that have made the status of the Iowa Democratic caucuses unclear. But those revisions won’t directly apply to Republicans.
Under the Democratic plan approved earlier this year, which was largely proposed by Biden, South Carolina would be the first approved nominating contest on February 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on February 6, and Georgia and Michigan before Super Tuesday. But that calendar won’t entirely come to pass.
The need to go before South Carolina Democrats is what pushed Republicans in Iowa and, presumably New Hampshire, into January.
A New Hampshire Democratic primary held before South Carolina would open the state party up to penalties from the Democratic National Committee, but last month, the national party’s rules panel gave the state more time to comply.
Democrats in Nevada and Michigan will vote on the days assigned by the party plan, but Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, scheduled his state’s primary for March 12 to avoid violating GOP rules.
Iowa Democrats, meanwhile, were removed from the group of early states entirely, despite a state law that requires the caucuses be held before any other contest.
In response, the state party proposed a plan under which it would hold caucuses on the same day as Republicans but would only use them to conduct party business, not to vote for president. The presidential preference vote would be a separate process, conducted entirely by mail.
However, they haven’t specified the dates for that mail process, and without that information, the DNC panel declined to approve the plan at last month’s meeting. Party staff said the vote-by-mail period must end on or after March 5 (the date when every state is allowed to start holding Democratic contests) in order for it to comply with party rules.
Earlier this year, New Hampshire’s Republican secretary of state, David Scanlan, said that the use of mail ballots in Iowa would trigger his state’s first-in-the-nation primary law.
That could create another source of uncertainty on the primary calendar, but according to Josh Putnam, a political scientist who writes about the primary process, that’s most likely to be an issue if Iowa Democrats choose to buck national party rules and schedule the mail voting period to end on caucus night (or any time before the New Hampshire primary).
In response to the Iowa GOP’s announcement of the January 15 caucuses, state Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart said her party was “committed to moving forward with the most inclusive caucus process in Iowa’s history.”
“We’re committed to doing what’s good for Democrats, what’s good for Iowa, and what’s good for democracy,” she said.
This story has been updated with additional information.