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Michigan Democrats to lobby to be first in 2024 presidential contest

President Biden visits the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training facility on Oct. 5 in Howell, Mich. Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, left, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer observe. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Democrats in Michigan plan to ask the national party to make their state the location of the first presidential nominating contest in 2024, challenging the election-year status of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, according to people involved in the effort.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said Tuesday that she had spoken with stakeholders throughout the state, including the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), about putting together a bid later this spring, when the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to open the process for applications for the next nomination order. Others spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations.

Dingell said Michigan is perfectly situated to start the nominating process.

“First of all, we are purple. The issues we are facing reflect the diversity of what the country is facing, from rural areas to urban areas, manufacturing areas to farming areas,” Dingell said. “We are a mini-America.”

The Michigan Democratic effort marks the first time that a new state has made a play to dethrone the early-voting order that has ruled presidential nominating contests for more than a decade. It follows moves by Democratic leaders to rethink the calendar after the tumult of the 2020 election, and Nevada’s parallel attempt to become the first nominating state, after it passed a law last year that switched the state’s voting process from a caucus to a primary system.

Democratic National Committee officials are expected to vote later this month to allow any state and territory to apply for the opportunity to hold its nominating contest in the early window in 2024, before the first Tuesday in March. They are expected to allow as many as five states to cast votes early, and have proposed a framework that would prioritize states that can show a diverse electorate, general-election competitiveness and an “inclusive nominating process,” a reference to state-run primaries.

Democrats circulate plan for changing 2024 nomination calendar, moving against Iowa

Several people involved in the process have described an interest among Democratic leaders to bring another Midwestern state into the primary process, especially if Iowa, as expected, is pushed out of the official Democratic order because it fails to perform well in the three criteria.

In nearby Wisconsin, Democratic leaders have ruled out making a play for an earlier role. “Our presidential primary is set in statute as the first Tuesday in April, so we won’t be applying to go early,” Iris Riis, the communications director for the Wisconsin state party, wrote in an email.

“We believe Michigan’s voice should be heard,” Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement Tuesday. “Our voices must be heard in the primary and the general. There is a lot of interest across our party in the process.”

Dingell said she had formed a working group to develop a proposal, following in the footsteps of the late Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who had long argued for the state to play a bigger role in presidential campaigns. She said she had spoken about the plan with several union leaders in the state including Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers President Ray Curry and David Hecker, head of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan. Curry is a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws committee.

The Michigan primary date is currently set by statute, and changing the timing would probably require the cooperation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and the Republican-controlled state legislature. Dingell said she had not yet approached her Republican counterparts.

Michigan has been a closely divided swing state in recent presidential elections. President Biden won the state by less than three percentage points in 2020, and former president Donald Trump won the state by less than a quarter of a percentage point in 2016.

“We have got to go do that work and we are going to do that work now,” Dingell said. “We know how to roll up our sleeves and do the work.”