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It's time to end the primacy of primaries so white

By Amy Goodman And Denis Moynihan on

The Iowa caucuses are monumentally important in the selection of presidential candidates in the United States. The question we have to ask is, Why? As this goes to press, only partial results have been released so far by the Iowa Democratic Party. Most blame falls on the Iowa Democratic Party and a software company called Shadow. Shadow made the disastrous app that failed to provide the promised instantaneous caucus results. Then, the party's backup system, a tried-and-true phone bank that has served the caucus process for half a century, proved to be insufficient for the volume of precincts desperately trying to call in their results.

Technical snafus notwithstanding, the fundamental question is why two almost entirely white states -- Iowa, along with New Hampshire with its first-in-the-nation primary status -- are allowed to have such a disproportionate influence over who the two major parties nominate for president.

The Democracy Now! news hour sparked the most recent incarnation of this debate during a presidential forum on environmental justice we co-hosted, held last November at South Carolina State University, an HBCU (historically black college or university) in Orangeburg, S.C. Here is the exchange that was the first time a major 2020 Democratic candidate was asked to comment on the nomination processes' racial disparity:

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Warren ... speaking about racial injustice, do you think the order of the primary states should change? You have Iowa and New Hampshire --

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Wait, let me make -- let me just -- before you finish, are you actually going to ask me to sit here and criticize Iowa and New Hampshire?

GOODMAN: No, I'm asking about the order.

 

WARREN: No, that is what Iowa and New Hampshire are all about.

GOODMAN: But let me just ask. They're two of the whitest states in the country, and then we move to South Carolina with a very significant population of people of color, and it means the candidates spend so much of their time catering to those first two states. Overall, do you think that should change?

WARREN: Look, I'm just a player in the game on this one.

Warren was visibly irritated by the question as she left the stage. Later, MSNBC played our exchange with Warren for then Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro. "Our country has changed a lot in those 50 years ... Demographically, it is not reflective of the United States as a whole, certainly not of the Democratic Party," Castro replied. "I don't believe that forever we should be married to Iowa and New Hampshire going first."

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