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Michigan Democrats lobby to move up state’s primary

Debbie Stabenow, Debbie Dingell Garlan Gilchrist and Lavora Barnes on a table
Michigan’s top Democrats — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, Lt. Gov. Garlan Gilchrist and Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes — plead with the Democratic National Committee on Thursday that Michigan should be among the first states to hold presidential primaries. The decision will be made by Aug. 6. (screenshot)

LANSING — Michigan’s diversity, status as a battleground state and affordability to political candidates should make the state among the first to hold presidential primaries in 2024.

That was the pitch Thursday from Michigan’s top Democrats as they pleaded with the Democratic National Committee on Thursday to tweak the primary calendar. 


Michigan is among more than a dozen states and territories fighting to move up on the DNC’s presidential primaries calendar — a change that could increase economic investment and political power. The DNC must decide by Aug.6.


Michigan’s proposal has gained support from prominent Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, both of whom spoke at the Thursday DNC meeting in Washington, D.C.. Two ex-state GOP chairs — Rusty Hills and Saul Anuzis — drafted a letter to the DNC in support, hailing Michigan as an “affordable” state with a diverse voter base.

“Simply put, Michigan is America and America is Michigan,” the former GOP chairs wrote.

But to move up primary dates would require assent from Michigan’s Republican-led state Legislature.

In 2020, Michigan held its presidential primaries on March 10, a week after Super Tuesday when one-third of all presidential nominating delegates are up for grabs, and five weeks after Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus.

At the Thursday event, Dingell told the DNC “appropriate conversations” are underway with the Legislature but was not willing to discuss the details.

“We feel good about the conversations that have been had so far,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes told the DNC on Thursday. “We just aren’t ready to (put) out those conversations publicly.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, “has not discussed this with Democrats yet and no bill has been introduced to make the change,” Shirkey spokesperson Matt Sweeney told Bridge Michigan in a text. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth’s spokesperson told Bridge the speaker “hasn’t spoken to them about it.”

States among the earliest to hold presidential primaries have traditionally wielded significant influence over the trajectory of the race

Those primary results help “winnow the field” of candidates and draw media attention and campaign spending to those first states, Matt Grossmann, political science professor at the Michigan State University, told Bridge Michigan. 

“Traditionally, that (process) has mostly been about reducing the number of candidates,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily seen as ‘Iowa and New Hampshire get to pick the winner.’”

Those who perform well in early primary states do not always win the presidential election, Grossman noted. In 2020, Pete Buttigieg won Iowa and Bernie Sanders swept New Hampshire, but both dropped out of the race, he said. 

Michigan Democrats have long fought to be among the first to hold primaries. Dingell, who represents most of Washtenaw and Wayne counties, lobbied the Democratic National Committee to reevaluate its nominating calendar in 2005, although Michigan failed to make the cut, Roll Call reported.

The national party again fully opened the nominating process this year after Iowa faced backlash in 2020 for delays in caucus results and for its lack of racial diversity. The states have also been criticized for exerting an outsized influence while not representing the majority of American voters.

“Iowa and New Hampshire happen to be among the whitest states and among the most liberal states in the Democratic electorate,” Grossmann said.

Michigan, in contrast, is in the middle of the pack among states when it comes to diversity, as 25 percent of voting-age residents are non-white.

Dingell said the state also has a range of diverse industries, from agriculture to manufacturing, and interest groups.

“To win Michigan, you have to talk to each of those constituencies,” Dingell told Bridge in an interview.

She and others argued that Michigan is a longtime swing state that is crucial to determining the presidential race outcome. 

“Michigan picks presidents,” Dingell said. “For the last four decades, nearly every candidate who wins Michigan becomes president.”

Additionally, Michigan offers campaigns “competitive” rates for television and radio slots in seven media markets across the state, Barnes said at the Thursday presentation. 


The effort to move Michigan up on the calendar has support from groups such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Michigan Restaurants and Lodging Association, Dingell said Thursday.

“People are clamoring to join us,” she said.

In an opinion published in the Detroit News, Anuzis called Michigan “the most diverse battleground state and a microcosm of America” and argued the nomination would bring Michigan “a tremendous economic benefit” by drawing campaign investments in small businesses, hotels, restaurants and tech companies. 

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue,” he wrote. “This is about Michigan getting more attention, more understanding of the issues that affect our state and being representative of the people and issues that affect our country.”

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