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Republicans could hold key to 2024 Democratic nomination calendar

Democratic plans to sidestep Iowa are complicated by the need for GOP agreement to move Michigan or Minnesota to the front of the line.

Supporters wait at former vice president Joe Biden's caucus night event at Drake University in Des Moines on Feb. 3, 2020. Democrats may be looking for a Midwestern replacement for Iowa, which Democratic leaders have soured on after the botched 2020 caucuses. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
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Democratic efforts to remake the 2024 presidential primary calendar in the Midwest may depend on the whims of Republicans in Michigan and Minnesota, who must agree if those states seek to reschedule their state-run primary elections.

The dynamic adds an awkward wrinkle to meetings of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee scheduled to begin Wednesday in Washington, with pitches by 16 states and Puerto Rico to become one of the starting sites of the 2024 presidential primary election.

The entire early-state calendar will be up for grabs at the meetings, but the discussion is expected to focus on finding a possible Midwestern replacement for Iowa, which Democratic leaders soured on after the botched 2020 caucuses. New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the three other traditional early states, are expected to retain significant roles in the first stages of the nominating process, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Three states — Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois — are applying to replace Iowa as the Midwestern representative in the early state order. But the Illinois bid is hampered by the fact that it is not a swing state in presidential contests, includes an expensive media market in Chicago and would be dominated by voters from one metropolitan area.

The proposal from Minnesota Democrats would require the agreement of the state’s Republican chairman to move up its presidential primary under state law, and Michigan Democrats would require the assent of Republican leaders in the legislature to move up their primary date. Neither has been forthcoming.

“While I am confident Michigan will have a strong voice when it comes to selecting our next presidential nominee, I’m laser-focused on ensuring our party has the resources at its disposal to elect Republicans up and down the ballot,” Ron Weiser, the chairman of the Michigan GOP said in a statement Monday. “There’s too much at stake to be focused on anything but the upcoming midterm elections.”

DNC: New York and Nebraska Democrats won’t go early in 2024 primaries

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Republican Party declined to comment.

Republicans in those states would face severe sanctions from the Republican National Committee, including the removal of most of their delegates to the 2024 nominating convention, if they moved their primaries up match Democrats. Under rules passed unanimously this spring, Republican state parties like those in Michigan and Minnesota, with 30 or more total delegates, would be reduced to nine delegates and their RNC members, according to the RNC rules.

Jeff Kaufmann, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, who led the process to formulate the nominating calendar for the RNC, says he has heard no discussion about providing any relief to states that try to violate the approved Republican calendar, which again sets Iowa as the first caucus state. He said he was stunned that Democrats in Minnesota and Michigan were moving forward with their proposals on the assumption that Republicans would help.

“I find it hard to believe that they would put something in a proposal that appears to be unreachable,” Kaufmann said. “The Democratic Party in those two states are hoping the [Rules and Bylaws] committee doesn’t read their application very closely.”

That has not stopped Michigan and Minnesota Democrats from expressing optimism that they will be able to eventually bring their Republican counterparts around. Both states have launched extensive campaigns to woo national Democrats this week, with Michigan releasing a video voiced by former Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas and Minnesota planning to send Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (D), a member of a Native American tribe, to make the state’s pitch.

Both states will argue that their economic, geographic and racial diversity makes them an ideal states. Michigan is pushing its greater total non-White share of voters, while Minnesota has emphasized its many immigrant and refugee communities, high voter participation rate and significant gay and lesbian community.

“We are one of the fastest growing states in the Midwest, and what is fueling our growth is our diversity,” said Ken Martin, the chair of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the name used by the state Democratic party, who also sits on the Rules and Bylaws committee.

“Michigan looks like America, America at her very best,” Thomas says in his state’s video.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) said in an interview Tuesday that he is hopeful that Republicans would give their support to a date change, given the long history of bipartisan cooperation in the state on these issues, even as he admitted “it is always dangerous to predict how the current Republican Party will act compared to the former Republican Party.”

“We will pass that bridge when we get there,” Walz said.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II (D) expressed similar optimism of bipartisan cooperation in Michigan, saying that the absence of any public statements from Republicans opposing a moved date was an encouraging sign for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) as the legislature continued budget negotiations that would wrap up in the next few weeks.

“Gov. Whitmer and I certainly have to work with Republicans every day in our legislature. Certainly we have had a lot of bipartisan success,” Gilchrist said Tuesday. “I am very confident.”

Michigan Democrats have succeeded in recruiting two former state Republican chairman, Saul Anuzis and Gerald “Rusty” Hills, to write a letter to the Democratic National Committee voicing support for an earlier primary date.

Anuzis has argued that one solution would be for Republicans in the legislature to vote to allow Democrats to hold an earlier primary, while keeping the Republican nominating vote at a later date to avoid sanction.

“We don’t have to go at the same time. The Michigan Republicans could decide to stay in the window,” Anuzis said. “It is in our best interests, whether they are Republicans or Democratic candidates, to get them in the state to pay attention to us.”

Illinois Democrats, who would have no problem shifting their primary date, plan to argue that their state is a good place to test Democratic candidates’ ability to win large swing states with significant cities, like Georgia, Florida and Arizona, said Jake Lewis, the deputy director of the state party. Though the state has voted Democratic in each presidential election since 1992, Lewis pointed out Republicans have won statewide seats for Senate and governor in recent decades.

The Rules and Bylaws committee also will consider the possibility of adding a fifth state to the early primary calendar. Democrats from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Washington state are also scheduled to present at the event.

Iowa Democrats continue to make the case that they should be able to retain their first-in-the-nation status if they dramatically reform how the caucuses are conducted. Under the state party’s new proposal, Iowa Democrats in 2024 would cast written preference cards in the weeks leading up to the event, either by mail or at drop-off locations. The results would be announced at the caucus meetings.

One member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said the uncertainty of Minnesota and Michigan getting Republican cooperation presented the “biggest challenge” to Democratic efforts to sideline Iowa.

“That may be the thing that is keeping Iowa in the game,” this person said.

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