Iowa Democrats exploring ways to expand caucus

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Posted: Aug 01, 2014 1:46 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats in Iowa are devising ways to expand access to their state's leadoff presidential caucuses, addressing concerns raised by Hillary Rodham Clinton following her disappointing finish in 2008.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan offered a series of recommendations Friday to members of the Democratic National Committee, including legislation requiring employers to give non-essential workers time off to attend the caucuses, allowing out-of-state Iowans serving in the military to participate by teleconferencing and creating satellite caucus sites for shift workers and elderly who can't easily attend.

"There is nothing that we take more serious politically than our role in the presidential selection process," Brennan said. He told the committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee that "if there is a way that we remove some of these barriers ... then we should do it."

The former secretary of state's name was not mentioned during the morning discussion but the changes appeared aimed at addressing some of Clinton's chief concerns following the 2008 caucuses, when she finished in third place behind Barack Obama and John Edwards. Clinton complained then that the Iowa rules prevented people who work at night from attending.

Clinton is the leading Democratic presidential contender in 2016 if she decides to run again. Democrats in Iowa hope that she campaigns actively in the state and an outside group called Ready for Hillary has drummed up support for her in the politically influential rural state.

The Democratic caucuses require participants to form groups of candidate supporters and gather in schools, church basements and homes throughout Iowa. Supporters of candidates who receive less than 15 percent support in an individual precinct disperse, giving other supporters the chance to argue for their support.

Critics have said the process is less accessible than primaries because the meetings require Iowans to devote several hours to participate. Iowa Democrats said some of the proposals were first floated internally in 2007. Iowa — along with New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary — has been forced to defend its role as a starting point in presidential politics against detractors who say the mostly white, rural state is not representative of the nation's electorate.

In 2008, nearly 240,000 Iowans participated in the precinct caucuses, smashing previous records. But Brennan said the party wants to continue to make the meetings accessible. One of his proposals includes hiring a party official who is tasked with ensuring that counties make their meetings more open — from offering baby-sitting services to ensuring that it's accessible for people with disabilities.

Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa GOP, said in a statement that he and Brennan agreed that "there will be strong, bipartisan cooperation to do anything it takes to protect Iowa's first in the nation caucuses." He declined to offer specific comments on the Democrats' proposals.

The committee did not take action on the broad proposals Friday but Brennan said the state party intended to include the proposals in its voting plan early next spring.

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