News & Politics

Nevada And Iowa Go to War Over Hosting First-in-the-Nation Presidential Contest

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Everyone agrees that the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses were an unmitigated disaster. Caucus night was a nightmare for candidates and political junkies alike as it appeared the app developed in haste for returning results was too difficult for many caucus chairs to handle. It also didn’t work for everyone. Volunteers weren’t trained well in how to use it. In the end, Iowa Democrats counted the votes by hand.

The state of Nevada smelled an opportunity and pounced. The state voted to turn its caucus into a primary and scheduled it for February 9 — before Iowa and New Hampshire. Officials badly wanted to win the coveted “First in the Nation” title and believed they had stolen a march on Iowa Democrats.

But the Democratic Party in Nevada is close to civil war. Ultra-radical socialists took control of the party in March, leading to the entire staff resigning. Since then, the traditional Democrats and radicals have been at odds over who controls elections. Washoe County Democrats, the state’s second-most populous, wrested control of the state’s midterm campaign operation from the state party. This led to bitter recriminations from the socialist chairman,  Judith Whitmer, who blasted the move as an “insurgency within our own party.”

Not exactly the image Nevada wanted to project during a bid to supplant Iowa from the top spot.

Related:Entire Staff of Nevada State Democratic Party Resigns After Socialist Sweep of Party Leadership Positions

Despite the numerous problems Iowa experienced during the last caucuses, it now has the hope that the national party will stay with tradition.

“Putting on one of these is a mammoth undertaking,” said Dave Nagle, a former congressman and former Iowa state Democratic Party chair. “And you can’t have the organizers in open warfare with each other.”


Nevada’s bid for an earlier nominating contest was never grounded in the cohesiveness of the state party. Rather, it was a response to widespread complaints within the Democratic Party about the lack of diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire, two heavily white states. The technological issues that marred the Iowa caucuses last year — so severe the Associated Press was never able to call a winner — only added to Democrats’ complaints about the state.

But Democrats in Nevada are making a run on Iowa in terms of dysfunction.

The Washoe County rebellion was endorsed by every establishment Democrat of note, including the Democratic Governors’ Association and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. While former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was silent about the coup, most of his closest allies were supportive.

The Republicans in Nevada aren’t in much better shape. The pro- and anti-Trump factions are at war, and besides, they don’t even want to change the primary calendar. The state party chairs in Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina issued a statement earlier this week saying they support keeping the primary calendar as it is now.

The significance of a Democratic civil war in Nevada is that Harry Reid had spent 20 years building a party machine that could compete with Republicans in what used to be a very red state. Demographic changes were important in that Las Vegas and Clark County exploded in growth over that time, leading to a change in the state’s electorate.

But rural and small-town Nevada is still very Republican and Washoe County’s rebellion could turn Nevada red in 2022 and beyond.

There are other candidates for a first-in-the-nation primary slot, including South Carolina, which many Democrats believe is far more diverse and a better test for a potential Democratic nominee. However it all shakes out, despite rebellions and screw-ups, there’s a good chance that the calendar will remain as it is and Iowa will maintain its supremacy.