When I attended the Democratic presidential primary debate in Detroit in July 2019, I listened to Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, deliver a rousing pre-show speech in which he praised the historically diverse field of candidates. But on Jan. 14, 2020 — less than six months after the Detroit debate — an all-white lineup of six candidates took the stage for the final time before the Iowa caucuses.
The exit of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., from the race nearly two months ago was the straw that broke the donkey’s back in disrupting the Democratic Party’s “rainbow coalition.” According to senior staffer Kelly Mehlenbacher’s resignation letter, the Harris campaign was marred with issues of poor leadership and a crumbling strategy for victory. Her fate, however, was ultimately decided by her poor performance in Iowa, a state whose population is less than one percent of the U.S. total and 90 percent white.
Billionaire and former Mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg, on the other hand, has bought his spot on the debate stage and scammed his way to fourth place in the polls, despite joining the race just a little over two months ago. His strategy to win the nomination is unprecedented in modern primary politics. His campaign intends to skip the first four nominating contests, held in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, and instead focus on making a splash on Super Tuesday, when 14 states hold their elections. The only way such a strategy could work is with astronomical spending on ads, and Bloomberg is going all in with more than $200 million spent to date.
Members of the Democratic party must ask why a female senator of color was forced to prematurely terminate her campaign, while a white, male billionaire was able to buy his way into the race. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., another candidate of color who recently suspended his campaign, said it best: “There’s more billionaires in the 2020 race than there are Black people.”
Harris’s exit makes a compelling case for primary election reform. The Iowa caucuses are the single most important event in the primary elections, hence why campaigns spend tens of millions of dollars in the state to build a strong ground game and flood the air waves with TV ads. Iowa is so important, in fact, that all but two winners of every Iowa caucus since 1976 have gone on to win the party’s nomination.
The circumstances of the 2020 election have many pundits asking why Iowa is first. Low and behold, there is no real reason the small, Midwestern state is first, and in fact, the order of states in the primary calendar is arbitrary and left up to the states themselves. Analysis site FiveThirtyEight constructed a reordered Democratic primary calendar that emphasizes diversity and representativeness, and it places Illinois first. If Democrats are serious about not only creating, but maintaining, a more diverse field throughout their primary elections, then the order of states must be changed.
On the top of nearly every Democrat’s mind in the upcoming elections is defeating President Trump, hence “electability” has been a topic of fierce debate. But without a fair primary calendar that reflects the diversity of the Democratic party, we risk alienating millions of Americans.
Sam Burnstein is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts and can be reached at email@example.com.