Leading DFL elected officials are trying to sweeten Minnesota's pitch as it competes with other states for an early Midwestern spot in the 2024 presidential primaries.
Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and incoming Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic say they would swiftly pass legislation moving up the date of the state's primary if Minnesota is chosen.
Becoming one of the first Democratic presidential primary states could give Minnesotans the kind of major role in national politics that has eluded Minnesota when early states have gotten outsized attention. Michigan and Iowa are also among the states making a pitch for early status.
"We are committed to swiftly passing and signing into law legislation that would allow for this move to take place," the Minnesota DFL leaders wrote to members of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws panel.
Democrats in Minnesota could do that on the strength of their complete control of state government. The party maintained control of the House and governor's office in the midterms, while also winning back the Senate.
Under current law, the DFL needs help from the GOP to move the date. The party chairs of the DFL and Republican Party of Minnesota would have to send the Secretary of State's Office a joint letter agreeing on a particular date.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann said in a statement that the party "has no objection in principle" to moving up the primary, but he said current Republican National Committee rules would remove most of their national convention delegates if Minnesota did that. And he was critical of Democrats potentially changing the law unilaterally.
"I find it difficult to believe that the DFL would take such a blatantly partisan action designed to disenfranchise Republican voters in the next Presidential election and would hope they would be willing to work with the RNC on finding an acceptable compromise," Hann said.
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said the plan outlined to the DNC would move both the DFL and Republican presidential primaries from Super Tuesday, when the most states hold primaries or caucuses, to an earlier date. Minnesota's next presidential primary is currently set for Super Tuesday on March 5, 2024. Holding each party's presidential primary on different dates would double the costs to the state.
Iowa has long held the first critical caucus in a presidential nominating cycle, giving it extensive influence across the country. But in 2020, the caucuses saw confusion and a stunning delay in results that scrambled the early state picture. Democrats' concerns about Iowa's standing has created an opening for a new midwestern state to take its place. Primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina followed Iowa in 2020.
Minnesota, along with 13 other states, voted on what's known as Super Tuesday in 2020. Moving up in the calendar would likely give Minnesota much more influence in national politics. The DNC noted in an August media advisory that the party was delaying a decision on which states would hold early presidential primaries until after this year's midterms. Iowa hopes to keep its post, but Michigan is also a clear contender.
Democrats in Michigan, like Minnesota, will have unified control of the statehouse and governor's office next year after midterm wins, which could help that state clear hurdles in securing an early primary position. Martin said that evens the playing field for both states as they compete to replace Iowa on the early-voting calendar.
"That's no longer a question for either state," he said. "It's very clear we can get it done."
Martin said he's hopeful the DNC panel will take a vote on the early state lineup by Saturday to allow the selected states to start preparations. The full DNC must also vote on the presidential calendar.
Michigan has been a closely watched swing state in recent presidential general elections, and it shifted from Republican Donald Trump in 2016 to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. Minnesota has not swung in the same way, despite Trump having a close loss in the state in 2016. A Republican presidential candidate hasn't won Minnesota in a general election since 1972, when Richard Nixon carried the state.
Martin thinks Minnesota has a 50-50 shot of winning an early presidential primary slot and has been touting the state's strong union presence, its diverse populations and nation-leading voter turnout.
Minnesota would also be less expensive for presidential campaigns to compete in than Michigan, Martin argues, which has a larger media market and a bigger pool of primary voters to reach.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said in a recent letter to members of the DNC Rules and Bylaws committee that "Iowa Democrats have also committed to making long-overdue changes to our caucus process. We've reimagined an all-mail vote expression of presidential preference."
Wilburn also tried to contrast Iowa with rival Midwest states, saying it "offers cheaper media markets than Minnesota or Michigan and the geographical stability campaigns require to ensure engagement of urban, suburban and rural voters all in one day."
The race to either keep or win an early state slot has been competitive. Hosting a contest before Super Tuesday can offer states early attention from candidates mulling a run for the White House, along with major investments in time and attention for months from presidential hopefuls once they are actually running.
That environment offers the potential of plenty of media attention, and fundraising power, for early primary state Democrats.
"Everybody wants to jump ahead of everyone else," said Todd Belt, a professor and director of the political management program at George Washington University. "And the reason for doing it is to make your state actually matter."