The Date of the 2016 Iowa Caucus Is Set. For Now.

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AMES, IA - JANUARY 01: People wait to shake hands with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) during her campaign stop at the Gateway Hotel Ames January 1, 2008 in Ames, Iowa. With the Iowa caucuses less than a week away the race has tightened in both Iowa and New Hampshire. 
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Emily Schultheis
Aug. 25, 2014, 12:27 p.m.

The Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee voted this week­end to ad­opt its 2016 cal­en­dar, set­ting the first-in-the-na­tion Iowa caucuses for early Feb­ru­ary””and un­like in 2008 and 2012, the cal­en­dar this time seems much more likely to stick.

In past cycles, a hand­ful of trouble­mak­ing states who wanted more in­flu­ence in the nom­in­at­ing pro­cess ended up com­pletely wreck­ing the pro­posed cal­en­dar by mov­ing up their primar­ies; this year, ef­forts by both parties and new, tough­er sanc­tions from the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee are help­ing en­sure that more states com­ply with the cal­en­dar and fall in line.

There’s cer­tainly a chance the cal­en­dar could change””as both parties learned ahead of 2012, it just takes one state jump­ing the gun to cre­ate a snow­ball ef­fect that pushes the whole cal­en­dar for­ward by more than a month. It’ll be tough to tell what hap­pens un­til next year, when most of the le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion could take place””but as of now the num­ber of states that could or would make such a move is far smal­ler than it was in 2012.

Per the DNC’s 2016 cal­en­dar, ap­proved at the party’s meet­ing in At­lanta, the Iowa caucuses will be held on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, fol­lowed by the New Hamp­shire primary on Feb. 9, the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20, and the South Car­o­lina primary on Feb. 27. All oth­er states can hold their primar­ies any time from March 1 through June.

In both the 2008 and 2012 cycles, the cal­en­dar pro­posed by each party was just that: a rough pro­pos­al that bore no re­semb­lance to the fi­nal cal­en­dar. Flor­ida’s de­cision to hold a Jan. 31 primary, com­bined with both Ari­zona and Michigan opt­ing for Feb. 28, ul­ti­mately wreaked hav­oc on the pro­posed cal­en­dar and pushed the Iowa caucuses up from the sched­uled Feb. 6 to Jan. 3.

But many of 2012’s biggest trouble­makers are fall­ing in line this time. Flor­ida, it seems, won’t be a prob­lem again: Last year, the state Le­gis­lature ap­proved a pro­pos­al to move the state’s primary back to March, put­ting it in com­pli­ance with the new cal­en­dar. Ari­zona, which played a role in the front-load­ing in 2012, is now slated for a mid-March primary. And a po­ten­tial con­flict in Mis­souri, which had pre­vi­ously sched­uled its primary for Feb­ru­ary, was aver­ted when Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jay Nix­on signed a bill mov­ing the primary back to March.

There’s really only one re­main­ing wild card so far this year: Michigan, where elec­tion law still states the primary should be held on the fourth Tues­day of Feb­ru­ary. That would make it Tues­day, Feb. 23””four days ahead of the pro­posed South Car­o­lina primary, which pre­sum­ably wouldn’t go over well with Pal­metto State politi­cians.

North Car­o­lina’s elec­tion law, which re­quires the state’s primary to be held the Tues­day after South Car­o­lina’s, seemed to be prob­lem­at­ic as well if the vote were held earli­er in the year””though if the cal­en­dar stays as-is, that would mean North Car­o­lina would go on March 1, just with­in the DNC’s guidelines.

Party of­fi­cials say they don’t ex­pect there to be any cal­en­dar con­flicts this time around, in large part be­cause of the pen­al­ties on states that do jump the gun. Re­pub­lic­ans have ad­op­ted their strict­est del­eg­ate pen­al­ties ever, re­du­cing the num­ber of con­ven­tion del­eg­ates for a state that jumps ahead to just nine (or one-third of the state’s ori­gin­al num­ber of del­eg­ates for smal­ler states, whichever is lower).

Demo­crats have main­tained the same pen­al­ties they had in 2012, which call for of­fend­ing states’ del­eg­ate totals to be cut in half. The party’s Rules and Bylaws Com­mit­tee has the power to en­force ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions on states that jump ahead, in­clud­ing los­ing all its del­eg­ates en­tirely or be­ing sub­ject to con­ven­tion-re­lated pen­al­ties like hotel loc­a­tions or con­ven­tion seat­ing. And the DNC ac­tu­ally re­wards states that com­ply with the cal­en­dar, award­ing them ex­tra del­eg­ates.

States that aren’t Iowa, New Hamp­shire, Nevada, or South Car­o­lina have ar­gued that mov­ing up their re­spect­ive primar­ies meant they could share a bit of the pres­id­en­tial lime­light: The four early states get un­par­alleled na­tion­al im­port­ance and at­ten­tion, which oth­er states of­ten want a piece of.

There’s still plenty of time for things to change. The bulk of the ac­tion last time around was in 2011, the year be­fore the elec­tion, so 2015 could see sim­il­ar move­ment as state le­gis­latures con­sider the mat­ter early next year. And pen­al­ties didn’t seem to both­er states like Flor­ida, Ari­zona, and Michigan last time around. But as of now, it looks like re­port­ers and pols alike will be able to avoid spend­ing New Year’s in Des Moines come 2016.

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