WASHINGTON — Gov. Tim Walz has made a last-minute pitch for Minnesota to become an early primary state as a key panel of the Democratic National Committee is set to make recommendations on a new presidential primary calendar later this week.
In a letter sent Monday to the to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, Walz, Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader-elect Kari Dziedzic said the DFL’s electoral victories in this month’s elections guarantees the state can move up the date of its presidential primary.
“We are now writing to inform the Committee that if Minnesota is chosen as an early primary state, we are committed to passing legislation that would move the date of the DFL’s presidential primary to coincide with the DNC’s early state schedule,” the letter said.
Minnesota’s DFL is in a pitched battle with Michigan Democrats to replace Iowa, which has held the first presidential primary contest since 1971. The competition between the states is intense, with both arguing their urban/rural makeups and geographical position in the nation’s heartland should give them early primary status.
But Michigan and Minnesota share a problem. The Republican National Committee has said it will not support any change to the Republican presidential primary schedule.
“Our 2024 calendar for the presidential primary is set, so it’s going to be Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina,” RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said during a visit to Minnesota before this month’s general election.
Like the DNC, the RNC imposes sanctions – a reduction in the number of delegates to the nominating conventions – against states that try to cut ahead of their predetermined positions in the calendar.
Under current state law, the heads of the DFL and Republican state party must agree to change the date of the state’s presidential primary. 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.
Minnesota Republican Party chairman David Hann has said “our RNC rules make it difficult to change” the date of the presidential primary.
“We have no plans to make any changes,” Hann said at an event with McDaniel.
So, in their letter, Walz and the DFL leaders of the state legislature assured the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee that “as Governor and incoming leaders of the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, we are committed to swiftly passing and signing into law legislation” that would allow Minnesota to vie for “first in the nation,” or at least “one of the first in the nation,” primary slots.
The DNC scrapped its early primary calendar this year, opening up the process so all states could apply to hold early contests. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee whittled down the list of eligible applicants to 16 states and Puerto Rico and the panel will announce its recommendations during a three-day meeting beginning on Thursday.
Those recommendations would be voted on by all DNC member early next year, a process that’s considered a formality.
The early presidential primaries, held in February in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina after Iowa’s caucuses, have given those states a disproportionate ability to narrow the field of candidates for the White House. The early primary states also receive national attention to their issues and an economic boost since they are flooded with advertising dollars and on-the-ground campaign organizing.
Minnesota’s presidential primary has been held on Super Tuesday, usually the first Tuesday in March, a date that attracts the greatest number of states holding primaries or caucuses. Now it has a chance to break away from that pack.
But the competition is fierce and Michigan is seen by many as a front-runner.
Diversity vs. an engaged and loyally Democratic electorate
There were several reasons the DNC wanted to scrap their old primary calendar and start anew.
Iowa bungled its 2020 caucuses after a new reporting app suffered technical problems, delaying results and producing no clear winner. Nevada also had problems determining the winner of its 2020 presidential primary caucuses.
There is also concern among some Democratic leaders that Iowa’s lack of a racially and ethnically diverse population does not reflect the nation as a whole, a concern that is also held about New Hampshire. Iowa is 90.1% white according to the 2020 U.S. Census and just 4.3% Black, 6.7% Hispanic/Latino and 2.8% Asian. New Hampshire is even less diverse at 92.8% white.
Meanwhile, Iowa has become “redder,” and some party leaders believe Democrats should invest the millions of dollars spent in early primary states in battleground states instead.
That preference to hold early primaries in battleground states could hurt Minnesota’s application and boost Michigan’s chances. Minnesota has loyally voted for a Democrat for president for decades. Michigan, however, has been a much more “purple” state.
Minnesota is also much less racially and ethnically diverse than Michigan. With only 7.4% Black residents and 5.8% Latino residents, Minnesota is much less diverse than 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.
Even so, Minnesota is more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire and its number of ethnically diverse residents is growing.
While Walz has bragged about Minnesota’s huge Democratic election wins, Michigan Democrats also had impressive gains, including – like Minnesota – the seizure of control of both chambers of the state legislature.
Minnesota, however, has attributes that make it attractive, including a relatively cheap media market, high union membership and a large LGBTQ community. The state’s high civic engagement and voter turnout is also a plus.
“Minnesota is one of the fastest-growing Midwest states, has a capable and competent state party, a highly engaged electorate, and a logistical and financial advantage for campaigns,” said a letter signed by the Democratic members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.
The DNC rules and bylaws committee had hoped President Biden would weigh in. But it seems the president has yet to put his finger on the scale.
Biden has, however made several visits to Michigan before and after this month’s election, touting the state’s auto industry, especially it production of electric vehicles, and other manufacturing in the state. The president’s frequent visits to Michigan has encouraged Democrats in the state seeking to move up their presidential primary.
Besides Minnesota and Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington state have all made bids to be early presidential primary states.