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

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. 

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.)

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 02/27/2015 - 01:58 pm.

    It also moves up the primaries (where applicable) for local and school board elections, essentially turning those races into year-long affairs. No thanks!

  2. Submitted by Susan Khatri on 02/28/2015 - 08:37 pm.

    cyndy cyndy cydny.. there was no Downy/Erhardt primary in 2008

    Where are you getting this? Downey ran for the state legislature in 2008 when the state’s primary was held in September. In the primary, he ran against and defeated incumbent state representative Ron Erhardt of Edina, a Republican…

    It’ not true. It’s 100% made up. How is this reporting? In 2008, there was no Republican primary in this house race (41a), and Downy certainly did not defeat Erhardt in the 2008 primary that never was, there simply was no such primary election. The “report” of this election is rubbish. There was only a general election in 2008 in 41a, a three way general election ballot. The results were 3rd place: Kevin Staunton (DFL) 31.4% (7,626 votes); 2nd place Erhardt (Independent) 31.9% (7,760 votes) and in 1st place Downey (Republican) 36.7% (8,925 votes).

  3. Submitted by Frank Long on 03/02/2015 - 04:11 pm.

    Attacking the Caucus & Endorsement System

    Moving the Primary to such an early date will shorten the election cycle and effectively make the caucus and endorsement system unworkable, and if it survives, ineffective. These three Senators have had trouble securing or supporting the endorsement in the past. This law, should it pass would be a incumbent protection plan, cutting off any reason to listen to the Party’s of the respective office holders. This would, put candidates even more in the hands of an affluent few and campaigning by sound bite. These Senators are showing contempt for the people who have worked and supported them in the past to get them elected, perhaps they should consider not seeking endorsement for the next election cycle. I certainly won’t be supporting them.

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