Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said his state wouldn’t use an app during its caucus. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Updated: 02/08/2020 12:40 PM EST
Democratic governors are vowing to avoid a repeat of the bungled Feb. 3 Iowa caucus, insisting that their own state and party officials have things under control.
As governors of both parties gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, the subtext was thinly veiled: We told you so, Iowa.
“Our caucus is coming up in two weeks from today. We are not using an app,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told reporters alongside other Democratic governors Saturday. “I can tell you that our folks on the ground are working extremely hard making sure that every ‘t’ is crossed every ‘i’ is dotted. … Hopefully Iowa is behind us and we’re going to be fine when we get to Nevada in two weeks.”
“I would like to say that Kansas anticipated all of this,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said. “We’ve abandoned the caucus process as we go to a primary process in May. Part of the reason that we did that is we understood that the caucus process is really exclusionary.”
Governors here have been taking repeated shots at Iowa’s place in the nominating process. And it’s not just Democrats: The Iowa debacle has also fanned Republican flames, in some quarters at least, to reframe the nominating system. Utah’s Republican governor Gary Herbert on Friday suggested a system of rotating regional primaries in lieu of the current process that he says keeps the best competitors from ascending to office.
The NGA confab is supposed to be a bipartisan forum for governors to work through challenges facing state governments, but this year’s event couldn’t come against a more partisan backdrop: on the heels of Iowa and President Donald Trump’s impeachment acquittal, and just ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary. At least 43 of the nation’s governors are confirmed to be in Washington at some point through the weekend — fewer than usual.
“It was the Iowa Democratic Party — I don’t know if it extends beyond that,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, told POLITICO ahead of the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington on Friday. “But I do hope it says, ‘we’ve got to have a more inclusive way.’”
Minnesota changed its caucus to a primary system following high turnout in the 2016 system, and Walz said he’s confident the state’s Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party will run the March 3 event with finesse. But Iowa should be a “wake-up call” across the country, he said.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who ended his own presidential bid in December, said it’s too early to judge Iowa, but warned against underestimating outside forces.
“We’ll do everything we can to make sure our party’s effective,” he said of Montana Democrats. “But there’s greater issues we should be thinking about as well: though these challenges in Iowa may have been brought on by themselves, this underscores the importance of making sure that elections are secure — there very well may be meddling far beyond this.”
“It was not our finest hour,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the current chair of the Democratic Governors Association. “I’m confident in our party in the upcoming caucuses and primaries will have their act together, that it will be lesson learned. But God willing be in the rear view mirror and we’ll be on to the real fight over the ‘kitchen table’ issues — and who stands for working families in this country.”
Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker went further on Friday, offering up his state up as a better choice to lead off the primary calendar. He called it the “right way to go,” and challenged Iowa’s lack of representation.
“Diversity matters, right? And to have these states with no diversity come first, and somehow that’s going to decide who’s going to drop out?” Pritzker said at POLITICO’s 10th annual State Solutions conference.
Utah’s Herbert argued that “you oughta cut the country up into quarters, 25 percent based mostly on population, some geography maybe,” at the State Solutions event. Under his plan, the regions could each pick a designated month of the calendar and hold a Super Tuesday-like cluster of primaries at the end of their designated month.
Minnesota’s Walz echoed criticism of the Iowa caucus as a poor representation of the country and the party and called it “ridiculous” to spend “all that money for 40,000 votes or something.”
“We’ve gotta get this stuff right,” he said. “I was reading today there was some concerted efforts to overwhelm the phone line by outside groups — you have to anticipate those kinds of things. So I think what it is for us is make sure the state parties are doing that. I for one, have to say — and it’s no offense with the usual border battles with Iowa — but an overemphasis on a smaller Midwestern state with a caucus system is a terrible way to start this thing out.”
Some Democrats are happy to wait a while before upending the election system during an already tumultuous year.
“It’s just Iowa,” said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. “Let’s give it a month and see what happens.”
— Caitlin Oprysko and Quint Forgey contributed to this report.