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GOP senators seek to make Minnesota a player in 2016 presidential race

The proposal, which would move the state’s from August to March, would effectively end Minnesota’s caucus system.  

State Sens. Julianne Ortman, Scott Newman, John Pederson

A proposal by three Republican state senators to move Minnesota’s primary from August to March could effectively end the state’s caucus system.  

The proposal offered by Julianne Ortman, Scott Newman, John Pederson is intended to put Minnesota in play with other states that hold presidential primaries in March. But it would also affect the selection of a party nominee for governor. At the same time, it would also diminish the voices of party activists who prefer to choose their nominees through an endorsement process.

Republican Party Chair Keith Downey is cool to the idea. “I don’t support a March primary because the implication is that we move from a caucus to a primary system,” he said.  “I do support a June primary because [it] allows us to maintain the caucus system, have a strong primary environment that produces the strongest candidates with the highest degree of voter connection, and sets the field early enough to contrast with the other party.”

The DFL and Republican Party of Minnesota will hold their 2016 precinct caucuses on March 1. The DFL will hold a poll of Democratic presidential candidates that will bind delegates to the winner. 

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The state GOP, however, is planning on holding a non-binding poll (provided it can get a waiver from the Republican National Committe to do so; the RNC recently mandated that states should follow a process similar to that of Democrats), with the selection of national delegates (and their presidential preferences) coming later, at the state convention.    

To preserve the caucus system along with a March primary, the process of selecting delegates to the state convention would have to take place in January and February, an unlikely scenario according to Downey.

Downey ran for the state legislature in 2008, when the state’s primary was held in September. He was preparing for a primary fight against Ron Erhardt, who lost the GOP endorsement to Downey, when Erhardt decided to run as an independent. But the experience changed Downey’s thinking.  “I thought then, why am I running against my own party for nine months,” Downey said. “Moving to June makes a lot of sense.”

The DFL party did not respond to the March 1 primary proposal, but party chair Ken Martin has supported a June primary, as has DFL Governor Mark Dayton.   

Downey said in addition to the March primary proposal, he expects a bill this legislative session to move the primary to June. 

Similar bills have been offered and failed in prior legislative sessions. But with a March 1 primary bill in the mix, this year a June primary might be seen as a logical compromise.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Keith Downey defeated incumbent state Rep. Ron Erhardt in the 2008 Republican primary to represent House District 41A. There was no Republican primary for the seat that year; Erhardt ran in the general election as an Independent after losing the GOP endorsement to Downey.)