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Michigan is trying again for more influence in deciding who’s president

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In their lame-duck session this week, the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly and bipartisanly passed a bill to move Michigan’s primary date a month earlier from the second week in March to the second week in February.

The background: Michigan Republicans and Democrats are trying again to move to the front of the presidential primary line to gain more influence in deciding presidential nominees. In their lame-duck session this week, the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly and bipartisanly passed a bill to move Michigan’s primary date a month earlier from the second week in March to the second week in February. The idea is to let Michigan primary voters decide on a presidential candidate before voters in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Why now: There’s this renewed competition because the Democratic National Committee could change these decades-long rules about which states get to go first. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee is meeting this week in Washington D.C. to look at an overhaul.

Why Michigan: The argument is that states like Michigan are more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire. Michigan has a more diverse electorate, has both strong manufacturing and agricultural economies, and is politically diverse: we’re a swing state. “Michigan is the most diverse battleground state,” Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer told Michigan Radio this week. “We are a state that often decides the fate of national elections and for us to have to wait for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina to cull the field before we even get the opportunity to vote I think dilutes the opportunity for us to weigh in. So… I think the Michigan voice is really important.” The Michigan Democratic Party has even put together a video narrated by former Detroit Pistons’ player Isiah Thomas pitching the state to Democratic Party movers and shakers.

What to watch for next: First, what the Rules and Bylaws Committee does this week when they meet. Second, we noted the state Senate has passed the legislation to move the Michigan primary forward but it has not yet passed the state House. We’ll see if the Republican-controlled House votes before the end of its lame-duck session. Meantime, it’s all a little ironic: a bipartisan play for a very partisan action - Michigan Republicans and Michigan Democrats coming together to help choose a potential president.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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