By THOMAS BEAUMONT
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Republicans announced Saturday that the party’s presidential nominating caucuses will be held Jan. 15, on the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., putting the first votes of the 2024 election a little more than six months away as the GOP tries to reclaim the White House.
White House candidates have campaigned in Iowa since last winter, but there has been some uncertainty about the date for the caucuses that have by tradition kicked off the Republican selection process for a nominee. What’s changed is the Democratic National Committee’s election calendar, dropping Iowa as its first contest.
The Iowa Republican Party’s state central committee voted unanimously for the third Monday in January — a date that is earlier by several weeks than the past three caucuses, though not as early as 2008, when they were held just three days into the new year.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, during a call with reporters later, reported that the vote was unanimous and that he “never sensed that there was anyone even thinking about voting no” to the proposed date.
“As Republicans, we can, I, we see this as honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King in terms of having a caucus here,” Kaufmann said, noting also that committee members hadn’t considered the possibility of the contest falling on the federal holiday before arriving at the date.
Caucuses, unlike primary elections, are contests planned, financed and carried out by the parties, not state election officials. The Iowa announcement Saturday allows New Hampshire, which has not inked a primary election date but has circled Jan. 23 as its preference, to protect its first-in-the-nation status, which is codified in state law that requires the contest be held at least seven days ahead of any other primary.
The decision could have implications for both parties. Iowa Democrats had been waiting for the GOP to set a date as they try to adjust to new DNC rules on their primary order.
Democrats have proposed holding a caucus on the same day as the Republicans contest and allowing participants to vote for president via mail-in ballot. But Iowa Democrats have said they may not immediately release the results.
That could allow the state party to still hold the first-in-the-nation caucus without defying a new election-year calendar endorsed by President Joe Biden and approved by the DNC that calls for South Carolina to replace Iowa in the leadoff spot and kick off primary voting on Feb. 3.
Last month, South Carolina Republicans adopted Feb. 24 as the date for the traditional first Southern primary, leaving plenty of time for Nevada to schedule its Republican caucuses without crowding New Hampshire.
“We remain committed to maintaining Iowa’s cherished first-in-the-nation caucuses, and look forward to holding a historic caucus in the coming months and defeating Joe Biden come November 2024,” Kaufmann said.