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The DNC is considering changing how the party picks its presidential candidates

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden is making his first trip as president to Iowa today, a state known for kicking off the presidential nominating process every four years. But Democratic Party officials are opening the door to significant changes to how the party picks its presidential candidates. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: The Democratic National Committee is considering shredding the party's traditional calendar, in which Iowa's caucuses go first, followed by primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

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LEAH DAUGHTRY: We cannot be stuck in a 50-year-old calendar when we're trying to win 2022 and 2024 elections - that it has to be an ever-evolving process.

SUMMERS: That was Leah Daughtry, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, speaking at a virtual meeting last month. She's backing a proposal that says states and territories that want to hold their contests before Super Tuesday in early March would all need to apply. The potential changes come after years of criticism of Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2020 neither state's winner went on to win the presidential nomination, and many argue that those two largely white states are not diverse enough to leave the nominating process. Ross Wilburn, the chair of Iowa's Democratic Party, pushed back. He said that Democrats need to show that they can address the needs of a diversifying rural America.

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ROSS WILBURN: Nationally, if Democrats can't figure out how to talk to Iowans, then we're in big trouble as a party.

SUMMERS: And he also pointed to the fact that his state has given flight to upstart politicians, including women and candidates of color, like the winner in 2008.

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WILBURN: Again, don't forget there would not be a President Obama without Iowa. There just simply wouldn't.

SUMMERS: The DNC is considering prioritizing states that can show they have a diverse electorate, competitiveness in the general election and states that hold primaries, not caucuses.

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DEBBIE DINGELL: Iowa showed a disaster of a caucus in the last election.

SUMMERS: That's Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan making references there to logistical challenges in 2020 that made it hard for Iowa to name its winner. While the DNC proposal has yet to see a vote, Dingell is already leading a push for Michigan to get early status.

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DINGELL: It's a state that reflects the great diversity of our country. We have urban areas. We have rural areas. We have manufacturing. We have farming.

SUMMERS: She says her state's politics are also part of the reason why it's well-positioned to be a part of the early window. President Biden won Michigan by a narrow margin in 2020 and former President Trump by an even slimmer one in 2016. New Jersey State Party Chair LeRoy Jones says that his state's diversity as well as its relatively compact size make it a good fit for the early window.

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LEROY JONES: You have a collaboration of population, of diversity, of tourism, of transportation ease. And, you know, I think that, you know, has particular value added to the process.

SUMMERS: Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire make a similar argument. They are small states and give candidates a chance to break through before moving on to larger states, where campaigning is more expensive. Dingell said that shouldn't be an argument against her state.

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DINGELL: The reality is you can do retail politics in Michigan and should do retail politics. Why should two disparate, small states that don't have - reflect the diversity of this country be the ones that presidential candidates go into their homes?

SUMMERS: The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee could vote on this proposal as soon as this week. Juana Summers, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROWNOUT'S "AGUILAS AND COBRAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.