The Dance of the Dates: Fancy Footwork to Stay First
State law requires that Iowa's precinct caucuses take place eight days in advance of any other state's delegate selection contest.  The January 24, 2000 date for the Iowa caucuses was the earliest since 1980 (past dates: Feb. 12, 1996; Feb. 10, 1992; Feb. 8, 1988; Feb. 20, 1984; Jan. 21, 1980). 

There have been challenges to Iowa's first status.  In 1996, Louisiana Republicans held caucuses ahead of Iowa, but most of the Republican candidates boycotted the event.  Throughout 1999 Louisiana Republicans were again moving ahead with plans to hold caucuses in ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Iowa and New Hampshire officials do not sit by and wait for challenges to their preeminent position.  Back on Nov. 18, 1997 Governors Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Terry Branstad (R-IA) announced an "Iowa-New Hampshire First-In-The-Nation Caucus and Primary Commission."  Its purpose: "to preserve the states of the two states' position in the presidential nomination process."  That effort apparently had run its course when, on May 27, 1999, Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver, Republican Party of Iowa Chair Kayne Robinson, and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rob Tully  announced an "Iowa First in the Nation Caucus Commission" with the objective of preserving "the unique tradition of Iowa as the first state in the nation to hold its presidential caucuses."  The Commission sent a letter to the candidates asking them to honor Iowa's first in the nation status.  (Ultimately, in late 1999, Louisiana Republicans decided against holding early caucuses). 

Throughout much of 1999, the date of Iowa's caucuses was a moving target.  In mid-1999, the Republican calendar tentatively put the date at Feb. 7, 2000, the first Monday in February, with New Hampshire to follow on Feb. 15; the unofficial DNC calendar showed Feb. 21 for Iowa and Feb. 29 for New Hampshire (dates based on delegate selection rule 10A).  As New Hampshire's likely date moved forward, Iowa's date followed in a kind of a synchronized dance.  In early June 1999 the South Carolina Republican Party's executive committee voted to move its primary from Feb. 26, 2000 to Feb. 19, 2000, meaning that  New Hampshire would likely move its date to Feb. 8 to protect its own seven-day window.  Iowa officials thus set the date of the caucuses for Jan. 31.  However, when Delaware Republicans moved their primary from Feb. 15 to Feb. 8, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner surprised everyone by announcing, on Sept. 28, 1999, Feb. 1, 2000 as the date for the New Hampshire primary.  Iowa officials grumbled, but on Oct. 14, 1999 they set the caucuses for Jan. 24, 2000.  Finally, the national party committees granted waivers to allow the early date.

Code of Iowa (1999) Title II, Chapter 43

43.4  Political party precinct caucuses.

Delegates to county conventions of political parties and party committee members shall be elected at precinct caucuses held not later than the fourth Monday in February of each even-numbered year.  The date shall be at least eight days earlier than the scheduled date for any meeting, caucus or primary which constitutes the first determining stage of the presidential nominating process in any other state, territory or any other group which has the authority to select delegates in the presidential nomination.  The state central committees of the political parties shall set the date for their caucuses.  The county chairperson of each political party shall issue the call for the caucuses.  The county chairperson shall file with the commissioner the meeting place of each precinct caucus at least seven days prior to the date of holding the caucus. 

There shall be selected among those present at a precinct caucus a chairperson and a secretary who shall within seven days certify to the county central committee the names of those elected as party committee members and delegates to the county convention. 

When the rules of a political party require the selection and reporting of delegates selected as part of the presidential nominating process, or the rules of a political party require the tabulation and reporting of the number of persons attending the caucus favoring each presidential candidate, it is the duty of a person designated as provided by the rules of that political party to report the results of the precinct caucus as directed by the state central committee of that political party.  When the person designated to report the results of the precinct caucus reports the results, representatives of each candidate, if they so choose, may accompany the person as the results are being reported to assure that an accurate report of the proceedings is reported.  If ballots are used at the precinct caucus, representatives of each candidate or other persons attending the precinct caucus may observe the tabulation of the results of the balloting. 

Within fourteen days after the date of the caucus the county central committee shall certify to the county commissioner the names of those elected as party committee members and delegates to the county convention. 

The central committee of each political party shall notify the delegates and committee members so elected and certified of their election and of the time and place of holding the county convention.  Such conventions shall be held either preceding or following the primary election but no later than ten days following the primary election and shall be held on the same day throughout the state. 


Copyright 2000  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.