DENVER — Politics often comes down to history and tradition. From party meetings to primaries, there is a natural order to the way the political calendar runs. That ritual has benefitted states like Iowa for years with the primaries.
“Iowa and New Hampshire have been going first for decades and decades and decades,” said Nathaniel Rakich, a senior elections analyst with FiveThirtyEight. “And it's basically just really hard to change such an established process.”
Colorado, on the other hand, participates in the primary process relatively late in the calendar, which Robert Preuhs, the chair of the political science department at Metropolitan State University of Denver, says made the state more or less irrelevant in the 2020 primaries.
In recent years, there have been complaints in the Democratic party, especially that those states are not representative of the party overall.
The states are more rural and less diverse than the party overall and are increasingly falling out of step with the party as a whole.
In 2020, Iowa’s caucus results placed Pete Buttigieg on top followed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren while Joe Biden was left in fourth place. The caucus system itself also tends to bring out a very different crowd than a true representation of the general electorate.
"People who know how to participate in the caucus is one aspect, but that means a very different electorate and it means a very different campaign early on,” Pruehs said.
Perhaps the final nail in the political coffin, though, was the debacle that was the 2020 Iowa Caucus. The results for the caucus didn’t come in for days and there were major reporting issues with the mobile app precincts used to log their results.
So this year, the Democratic National Committee is looking to buck tradition by reworking the presidential primary calendar.
This summer, the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is set to listen to pitches from states for why they should hold the early primary spots.
Colorado is one of more than 15 that have submitted letters of intent to apply for the process and make their case.
Other states include Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington among others.
“I think the party probably wants to keep the current setup of having one state in the Northeast, one in the Midwest, one in the South, one in the Mountain West,” Rakich said.
That could pit Colorado against other states like Nevada for that early primary spot.
The DNC will use a few main metrics to decide which states will go first like whether they use a caucus or a primary. Colorado is unique in that regard because we have both a caucus system with a convention process and a primary.
Other metrics the DNC will consider in picking states are ethnic diversity, geographic diversity, labor union membership, how feasible it will be for the state to switch its primary date and competitiveness in the general election.
Howard Chou, the first vice-chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, firmly believes Colorado meets all of those metrics and more.
For racial diversity, he points to cities like Aurora, where there are a lot of minorities from all different backgrounds. The state’s Latino population is also growing quickly, and people are moving to Colorado from all over, making it a microcosm of the country.
“If you look at the state as a general we are just diverse, not just ethnically, but everything. If you look at, we have both rural, farmer rural. We have mountain rural, we have mountain rural with resort town,” Chou said.
The state is also moving more blue over the decade while remaining competitive. Our mail-in voting system could be another big feather in the state’s cap.
Beyond that, Colorado has faced many of the big national issues on a local level, from climate change concerns with major wildfires to mass shootings, school shootings, calls for racial justice after the death of Elijah McLain, criminal justice reforms and more.
“Our state is at the center of all the values and principles that the Democratic party is trying to figure out and solve and fight for, and I just want us to be considered up top,” Chou said.
Colorado has become increasingly important in national issues, from presidential elections themselves to Congress.
So what’s the benefit of becoming one of the first primary states? First, it’s the prestige and the chance to drive the conversation about the issues that will matter in the upcoming election.
“I think the other side really is the issue side. That is that candidates have to focus on Iowa and have to address issues that are important to Iowans. And those issues may be very far afield from what the nation,” Preuhs said. “So, you start to kind of frame parts of the debate early on.”
The first states to go get the most attention from the candidates and the most visits. They get the most media attention and they see a boost in money from both political advertising and visitors.
It also generates a lot of grassroots enthusiasm and can encourage people to participate in the process at higher rates.
Some of those could also be downsides, though, like more political ads flooding televisions and mailboxes.
So what are Colorado’s chances of getting that top spot? It depends on who you ask. Chou believes the state has a good shot because it has so much to offer.
Preuhs is a little more on the fence. Rakich, meanwhile, believes the Centennial State could be edged out by Nevada for that Western early spot.
“Nevada is a very strong contender in terms of racial diversity and unionization and General Election competitiveness and all these other things and I just think it has Colorado boxed out in pretty much every way,” he said. “Colorado kind of falls in the middle of the pack on a lot of these metrics. It is fairly diverse, but there are more diverse states. It is somewhat competitive in general elections, but they're certainly closer swing states."
FiveThirtyEight recently did an analysis on states based on the metrics the DNC will judge and placed Colorado in the middle of the pack.
He doesn’t completly discount Colorado, though, saying it certainly has a better shot than some others that have applied. Rakich also points out that even if Colorado doesn’t get the top primary spot, it could move up in the primary calendar or even down.
The deadline for states to apply for early primary spots is June 3. The committee will then listen to pitches from the different states that have applied. The DNC is expected to decide on who will earn the top spot during its meeting on July 8.
Republicans, meanwhile, decided to keep their calendar the same for the 2024 primary.