WASHINGTON – Minnesota’s DFL party wants the state to move up its presidential primary — maybe even be the first out of the gate — but the prospect faces obstacles, including winning the support of the state GOP, which could be hurt by the move.
Minnesota is in competition with 16 states and Puerto Rico to be among the first four or five states or territories to hold a presidential contest, an honor now held by Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
“It would allow us to play a huge role in the shaping the presidential elections,” said DFL Chairman Ken Martin.
The early primary states, which hold their contests in February, have a disproportionate ability to narrow the presidential field. They also attract a lot of attention to their issues and massive amounts of candidate spending. In recent years, Minnesota’s presidential primary has been held on Super Tuesday, featuring the greatest number of states holding primaries or caucuses and usually set for the first Tuesday in March.
But to move Minnesota’s primary to February, Martin and his counterpart at the Minnesota Republican Party, David Hann, would have to agree to a date change.
“We’ve had good conversations,” Martin said of his discussion about the issue with Hann.
The Minnesota Republican Party, however, had no comment on the matter.
State law also requires other “major parties,” or those that who have received 5% or more in at least one statewide election, to agree to the date change. Minnesota’s marijuana legalization parties are considered major parties.
The Democratic National Committee decided to review its presidential primary calendar for the 2024 presidential election after a series of problems marred the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses, delaying results and producing no clear winner. Minnesota also selected its delegates through its caucus system until 2020, when it switched to primaries to apportion the delegates.
The DNC was also subject to complaints that Iowa and New Hampshire voters are not diverse enough, that they don’t reflect the national makeup of Democratic voters. And the DNC wants early primary states to be competitive in the general election.
So the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee was tasked with holding a political beauty contest. The 16 states and Puerto Rico will make a pitch to the 40-member panel next week, with Minnesota to make its presentation on Thursday, June 23.
Martin said an agreement with the Minnesota Republican Party on a new presidential primary date isn’t needed for him to make his case next week.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we have to,” said Martin, who is both a member of the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee and the DNC’s vice chair.
After hearing from the competing states in public hearings next week, the rules and bylaws committee will draw up a short list in early August and the full DNC will vote on the panel’s recommendation in early September.
The committee has already rejected New York as a place that’s too expensive for candidates to campaign and Nebraska because it planned a party-run primary, not a state-run primary. Democrats Abroad, a collection of expatriates who have a small but independent role in the nominating process, was also informed its application will not move forward.
That leaves Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington state in competition with Minnesota.
Martin said Michigan is Minnesota’s strongest competitor for “first in the nation,” status. But he said Minnesota has many advantages that Michigan does not, including more engaged voters.
In its formal application to the DFL, submitted on the day before a June 3 deadline, the DFL called Minnesota “Democracy’s North Star,” said the state has ranked No. 1 in voter turnout for every presidential election in the past 20 years.
It also said the high level of turnout in the state extends to all demographics, ranking first in the Midwest for Black, Hispanic and white voter turnout and second for Asian voters.
Minnesota’s pitch includes promoting itself as the Midwestern state with the most rural Democratic voters, largest LGBTQ+ community and greatest union membership.
Still, while Minnesota’s ethnic diversity is growing, it is not as diverse as Michigan and the nation as a whole. About 37% of the nation’s population identifies as Black, Latino or Asian, the U.S. Census says. A 2020 Pew Research report said four in 10 Democratic voters identified as nonwhite.
Minnesota’s application said “residents of color” make up 21 percent of the state’s population, but among young people, that percentage is greater at 34%. It also said Minnesota is home to the world’s greatest Somali diaspora, the nation’s largest Liberian and Karen populations and the second-largest Hmong population in the nation, as well as 11 federally recognized tribal nations.
“Diversity is really fueling our population growth,” Martin said.
Martin also said Minnesota would help national Democrats come out of the early primaries “battle tested.”
“If candidates can win in Minnesota, they can win in any part of the country,” he said.
The DFL’s push to move up Minnesota’s presidential primary is supported by the state’s entire Democratic establishment. Those who wrote letters of support of the state’s bid included Gov. Tim Walz, state Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, and the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators — Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith — and its four Democratic members of the U.S. House.
“We agree with the bid’s proposition that Minnesota offers a reflective snapshot of America and serves as the most suitable landscape for presidential candidates to compete,” wrote Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in a joint statement.