COMMENTARY: End kingmaking in Iowa, New Hampshire

Thank you for your service, Iowa and New Hampshire. But it's time to end the prominent, influential perch you two small rural states have long enjoyed in winnowing the list of presidential contenders.

Another state or states should get a chance to sort through candidates and make an early choice in the nation's first caucus or primary. Officials for both political parties should acknowledge a switch is overdue and then swiftly offer alternatives -- preferably before the end of the year.

That would give the new state or group of states enough time to plan for this earlier responsibility. In addition, announcing soon would give presidential candidates enough time to adjust their schedules accordingly.

An influential Democratic Party committee is set to consider the issue in December. Iowa Democrats' dismal handling of the 2020 caucuses, where technological glitches delayed results, provided additional motivation to tap another location. Republican Party officials did not respond to an editorial writer's request for comment.

Without a change, the 2024 presidential election will soon put the two states at the center of the American political universe once again. The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have enjoyed first-in-nation honors for decades. In 2020, the Hawkeye State's caucuses were held on Feb. 3. In 2012, the caucuses came barely after New Year's -- on Jan. 3.

With those very early dates comes a massive media spotlight, extra political clout for the states' voters and an unparalleled opportunity to see candidates close up. There's also a small but still significant economic boost from hosting the traveling reality show of candidates and journalists.

Winter winds may now sweep through the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, but it's mere months before summer political coverage features shopworn photos of presidential hopefuls grilling pork chops or glad-handing livestock exhibitors at the annual agricultural showcase. The same holds true for White House wannabes barnstorming New Hampshire's picturesque small towns and byways.

Enough already. This is a tradition that has grown stale. Nor does it serve the nation well. As a Brookings Institution white paper notes, the demographics in Iowa and New Hampshire are at odds with the nation's more diverse and urbanized population.

"With a white population share of 85 percent and 90 percent, respectively (compared to 60.4 percent for the nation as a whole), they are the sixth and fourth 'whitest' states. They also have somewhat older age structures, decidedly less urbanized populations, and a much higher representation of white adults without college educations ('noncollege whites') than the rest of the nation," the report states.

And while Iowa and New Hampshire voters have commendably taken their candidate-vetting responsibilities seriously through the years, these voters shouldn't have a monopoly on the influential early choice. Other states' voters, along with the issues important to them, deserve to share the spotlight that Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed. That front-row seat might also galvanize voters in the new state or states to get involved -- a win for voter participation.

Concerns about which states go first have persisted for years. In the mid-1990s, there was a push by the National Association of Secretaries of State for a system of regional primaries whose sequence would rotate with each election, so no one region had a permanent advantage.

It's unfortunate this proposal never gained traction. It should be resurrected and debated energetically by both political parties.

There would be some trade-offs, as there are with most changes. For example, the small geographic footprints of Iowa and New Hampshire, along with their relatively inexpensive media markets, can allow a dark-horse candidate lacking resources to compete early on.

But that alone isn't a strong enough argument to stay the course. There are other states that could offer up similar conditions.

Another consideration: If a decision is made soon to allow another state to go first or early, is there enough time for its election officials to organize and set up for the earlier contest? In a recent interview with an editorial writer, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said states generally are nimble enough to quickly adjust their calendars. He added that Minnesota could handle such a switch.

Iowa and New Hampshire have had a good run. It's time for a change.

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