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'Michigan picks presidents': State Democrats pitch DNC on moving up primary


Washington — Michigan Democrats pitched national party leaders on the state's diversity and swing state status Thursday in an effort to be one of the first to have a presidential primary election in 2024. 

Michigan is one of 16 states and Puerto Rico asking the Democratic Party to make them one of the five states voting before Super Tuesday, which are showered with campaign funds and media attention every election cycle. 

Sandwiched between presentations from Texas and Connecticut, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes told the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee why Michigan is a good pick to lead the election season. 

They argued Michigan's racial diversity, rural-urban split and economic sectors represent the swath of voters needed for Democrats to win the general election in 2024.

"Michigan picks presidents," said Dingell, who has led the effort with Stabenow to convince the party to move up Michigan.

"For the last four decades, nearly every candidate who wins Michigan becomes president. ... It's undeniable that the earlier the Democratic Party can get started here, the better."

They added that Michigan's multiple media markets make advertising affordable and that it's easy to campaign in rural, suburban and urban parts of the state in the same day. 

The presentation in downtown Washington featured a 2-minute video narrated by former Pistons star Isiah Thomas. Staff handed out gift bags with Faygo pop, Better Made chips, Kellogg mini cereal boxes, Cherry Republic dried cherries, Steenstra's Windmill cookies, a Gov. Gretchen Whitmer koozie and a hand-written note from Stabenow and Dingell. 

The Democratic National Committee announced in April it would reopen its presidential nominating process after Iowa's bungled 2020 Democratic caucuses gave additional oxygen to complaints that the Midwest state doesn't represent the party's racial or economic diversity.

Barnes told the panel Thursday that Michigan is 13.5% African American, 3.2% Asian American, 3.7% Hispanic and is home to 12 Native American tribes. In comparison, Iowa is 4.1% African American, 2.7% Asian American and 6.3% Hispanic. 

"This is a real opportunity for the DNC, with this particular process that we're going through, to demonstrate our values and make sure that our early election states truly look like America," Gilchrist said. 

Michigan's 2020 primary took place March 10, about five weeks after Iowa's caucuses and four weeks after New Hampshire's primary, and a week after Super Tuesday.

The committee is set to recommend a new early-state lineup to the full DNC in early August. Among the criteria that the DNC panel has signaled it is looking at are diversity, union representation, competitiveness in the general election and the feasibility of moving the state's primary into the early window.

Multiple members of the panel asked Michigan's delegation whether they could provide assurances that Republicans in the state Legislature would be willing to pass a law to move up the state's primary.

The Michigan Democrats declined to provide the committee details of the discussions, but Gilchrist said they have begun and "we want to move them along precipitously." 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Tuesday he was supportive of moving up Michigan's presidential primary for 2024.

And two former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul Anuzis and Rusty Hills, sent a joint letter to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee on Monday saying the battleground state best represents the country's diversity and that both parties work to "persuade and turn out" at election time.

"Simply put, Michigan is America, and America is Michigan. It is the best place for candidates of any political stripe to sharpen their campaigns, talk to voters from both sides of the aisle, and ensure the American people can hear a robust, respectful debate," Anuzis and Hills wrote. 

But it's complicated: The Republican National Committee, chaired by Michigan's Ronna Romney McDaniel, in April voted to retain the first four states in its 2024 presidential primary as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Anuzis said the Michigan GOP's state committee will ultimately decide whether to hold a caucus, convention, stick with the primary schedule or consider going "early" with the Democrats in 2024.

If they go outside the window they've been allocated, there could be a "pretty steep price to pay," from the national party, Anuzis said — though Hills said the RNC's rules for 2024 aren't set in stone and could change. 

In an interview after the presentation, Barnes said "we feel confident we can" get Republicans on board. Dingell added that it's good for the state, including both parties, to have candidates focusing on Michigan. 

"What we talk about at the kitchen table is what Americans talk about," Stabenow told the panel. "We need to speak to that. We need to speak early, not late. We need to set the stage by speaking early in the broadest possible way in order for us to be successful. That's what we offer."

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin

Staff Writers Melissa Nann Burke and Craig Mauger contributed.