At the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee meeting yesterday, party members set the official timeline for the 2018 caucus-to-convention process (in addition to electing Troy Price the new IDP chair). While non-presidential year caucuses and state conventions have been relatively sleepy affairs in recent cycles, next year’s could be extremely consequential.
With eight candidates in the gubernatorial field – about six of which will be well-funded with serious support – the likelihood of a contested convention for the Democratic nomination is a real possibility. There’s also a chance (albeit a little less likely) that the 1st and 3rd Congressional District primary races could end in that manner as well (five candidates are running or considering in the 1st, seven in the 3rd). Both Steve King and David Young won their nominations in this fashion in the years they were first elected to Congress.
If no candidate gets to 35% in the June 5 primary, a convention will decide the party’s nominee. The process to elect the delegates who will be voters at that convention starts with the initial precinct caucus. Here’s the date schedule that was approved on Saturday:
Caucus: Monday, February 5
County Conventions: Saturday, March 24
District Conventions: Saturday, April 28
State Convention: Saturday, June 16
This means gubernatorial campaigns – if no one hits 35% – will have a week and a half to work the delegates to the state convention – both to support them on the first ballot or in subsequent rounds (or rankings) if their preferred candidate comes up short. The party figured this was enough time for them to prepare for the proceedings, but not so long that Democrats were left without a nominee for an awkward amount of time.
Most of the gubernatorial campaigns are already planning for this scenario, and are planning to mobilize their supporters for the initial caucus. It puts an extra emphasis on early field organizing work, as you need to have identified your supporters in every country, inform them about the caucus process, and work to turn them out in February. It slightly favors candidates who have a core, passionate group of supporters early on and the capacity to organize them, but there’s a lot of factors that will impact things between now and next June.
There won’t necessarily be candidate preference groups in the caucus-to-convention process in the same way as presidential caucuses – the main effort is simply getting your supporters voted in to the next round. At the initial precinct-level caucus, delegates to the county conventions will be chosen. At the county conventions, delegates will be selected to attend both the district and state conventions. There will be 1,000 total delegates at the state convention, with a minimum of three from each county.
During presidential year caucuses, the precinct caucus level is actually held by precinct – as in, most precincts have their own separate location, or their own large room in a school or community center that hosts several precincts. Most counties will likely consolidate their locations for 2018.
The Democratic caucus is always held on the same date as the Republican one, as is the case here. State Senator Brad Zaun is expected to introduce legislation again next year to change Iowa’s primary process to a run-off system, in which the top two voter-getters would face each other in a run-off election in late summer, thus eliminating the caucus-to-convention process’ function. Zaun lost to Young in the convention process in 2014. It’s unclear whether that will actually gain enough support, or if it would be implemented immediately in 2018.
by Pat Rynard