By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Michigan is poised to move its presidential primaries to Jan. 15 or earlier, becoming the latest state to leapfrog to the front of the voting calendar in the ongoing battle for relevance in choosing the next White House occupant.
The move by Michigan lawmakers is the latest to push the campaign season ever closer to New Year's Day and the holiday season, and renews the possibility that Iowans could be gathering to vote in December, despite pledges from state leaders to keep their caucuses in January.
Democratic leaders in Michigan privately agreed to the Jan. 15 date in a conference call late last week, according to sources on the call. Michigan Republicans quickly said they would support a move to that date. Legislation enshrining the decision could be passed in the state Senate as soon as tomorrow.
Michigan's senior U.S. senator, Carl M. Levin (D), is pushing for his state's primary to be held even earlier. Levin, who has for years decried the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire at the beginning of the primary schedule, is pushing for a Jan. 8 primary, according to sources familiar with the senator's thinking on the subject.
Either action will continue the assault on the status of Iowa and New Hampshire, whose position at the front of the nominating calendar has for decades earned the states a flood of attention from presidential candidates. Officials in those states vowed yesterday to move their voting forward if Michigan or another state forces their hand.
"If they do that, it would mean we would not be any later than seven days before, which is the 8th," New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. Gardner said of Michigan's move. "If they actually do that, we will adjust to it."
Gardner made the same pledge earlier this month, when South Carolina Republicans announced they were moving their primary to Jan. 19. New Hampshire law requires that its primary be at least seven days before any similar presidential contest.
In Iowa, a spokesman for Gov. Chet Culver (D) reiterated the governor's pledge to maintain the state's decades-long tradition of holding caucuses at least eight days before the New Hampshire primary.
"The governor is not into playing the speculation game," spokesman Brad Anderson said. "He has said all along that people need to sit tight, take a deep breath, and he will wait until the other participants make a move. His goal is the same: The caucuses will be the first in the nation, and they will be in January 2008."
But Michigan's change could make it difficult for Culver to live up to that pledge.
If Michigan moves to the 15th, New Hampshire probably would switch to the 8th and, under Culver's guidelines, Iowa would shift to New Year's Day. Culver would be likely to face pressure to move voting to mid-December or closer to the New Hampshire primary to avoid conflicts with the holidays.
Michigan officials and state party leaders said such considerations will not sway them from choosing an earlier date. They said they are determined to force presidential candidates in both parties to pay attention to issues that are important to Michigan voters: health care, the environment, jobs and globalization's effect on the economy.
"Democrats agreed to an early primary that will make Michigan extremely relevant in the presidential nominating process," said Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D). "We're very anxious that candidates come to Michigan and tell us their positions on these issues."
Republicans in the state have said they, too, are eager to vote earlier and will agree to whatever day the Democrats choose.
"I have to tell you, I agree with Senator Levin on this one," the party's chairman, Saulius "Saul" Anuzis, wrote on the party's official blog this weekend.
In a statement posted on the Web site, he wrote: "Although going on January 15th is not our first choice, we will join with the Democrats and hold our primary on the same day. This puts Michigan front and center in the presidential battle ground."
Jason Moon, a spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party, said the "two party chairs are in negotiation" now over the date.
The results of those negotiations could be known by tomorrow, when two bills focused on the primary calendar are due to be considered in the state Senate. The bills would set the primary date on Jan. 29 or Feb. 5, but they are likely to be amended to reflect agreement about Jan. 15, sources said.
State Sen. Michelle McManus (R), the sponsor of one of those bills, said she thinks her party is eager to vote earlier.
"For us to raise our state's profile in the national arena and to encourage participation throughout . . . we need to be in the mix," McManus said. "There's a lot of candidates out there on both sides. I certainly believe that the next president needs to share the concerns of our state."