As Democrats prepare to shuffle presidential primary calendar, Minnesota makes its case

Minnesota Democrats are doing their final lobbying as a Democratic National Committee panel prepares to meet Thursday to start deciding the party's 2024 presidential primary calendar.

Minnesota is battling Michigan to replace Iowa, whose half-century with first-in-the-nation status appears to be ending. Democrats have reopened their calendar that's traditionally given Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina significant power over the party's process.

Minnesota Democrats say this month's election results strengthened their case to the DNC's rules and bylaws committee. Voters gave the DFL control over the state House and Senate and reelected Gov. Tim Walz. Key Democrats have committed to changing Minnesota's 2024 primary date in state law to align with the DNC's calendar.

"From an economic standpoint, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, to have the focus on Minnesota early in a presidential campaign is good for both parties," Walz told reporters this week. "If you’re the Republicans, you can highlight things that you don’t think work in progressive policies, and you’ll have a national stage to do that."

Minnesota Democrats' sales pitch goes like this: voters here are engaged in politics, advertising is relatively inexpensive in the state's media markets, and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's hub status makes it easy for candidates to fly in and out.

Minnesota's top competition is Michigan, which some see as the frontrunner. President Joe Biden has stayed mum about his preference, but if you read into the president's travel schedule, Biden visited Michigan this week on the eve of the DNC committee meeting.

Democrats will control both states' legislatures in January, allowing them to do an end-around Republicans who oppose a date change. 

"Our 2024 calendar for the presidential primary is set," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told reporters in St. Paul this month. "It’s going to be the same as it’s been: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina."

Holding two primaries on different dates to satisfy both parties would cost Minnesota about $30 million, said Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat. The state spent $10 million reimbursing local election officials for the 2020 primary.

"I don’t know exactly what the Legislature has talked about or is planning. I would want to talk to them before I weigh in on that," Simon said. "But I would say, all things being equal, yes, you would want uniformity and you wouldn’t want to have duplicate dates."

Holding two primaries could also create awkwardness for voters, because a person's party preference would be clear based on which day they showed up to the polls. Minnesota doesn't require voters to.

The state Legislature could require both parties to adhere to a single primary date. But the parties are private entities, so one party could decline to hold a primary and have a caucus instead.

Minnesota lawmakers don't meet again until Jan. 3. The wrangling over the calendar could be a non-issue by then -- if the DNC chooses Michigan.