WASHINGTON — High-ranking Democrats handed out gift bags and glossy brochures, poetically waxing New Hampshire’s Manchester Airport and New Jersey’s Turnpike.
Midwestern mores barely masked a growing Michigan-Minnesota rivalry.
And heads of state deployed spirited surrogate operations and skilfully produced advertisement as they embark on a high-stakes process that will determine the most important phase of the Democratic presidential nomination calendar.
After the disastrous 2020 Democratic caucuses in Iowa, in which the longtime national caucus state struggled for days to get results, members of the Democratic National Committee are considering drastic changes in how the party chooses its presidential candidates. The most significant step in that process to date took place this week, as Democratic senators, governors and presidents from across the country descended on a Washington conference room to present to members of a key party committee their visions for the 2024 primary calendar.
Democratic state parties formed alliances, enlisted Republicans — and in the case of Michigan, turned to retired basketball star Isiah Thomas — as they argued for major changes to the traditional process or strove to defend their early statehood.
“Tradition is not a good enough reason to preserve the status quo,” the narrators of the Nevada video said, as state officials attempted to hold the first nominating contest. “Our country is changing. Our party is changing. The way we choose our candidate – that has to change too.
Four states have launched the Democratic presidential nominating contest in recent years: the first state stalwarts, Iowa and New Hampshire, followed by Nevada and South Carolina. But Iowa has faced heavy criticism over both the 2020 debacle and its lack of diversity, and in private conversations this week, Democrats have questioned whether Iowa belongs to the first four states.
Aware of the criticism, Iowa officials on Thursday proposed revising their caucus system, usually an in-person event that goes through multiple rounds of elimination. Instead, officials said, the presidential preference portion of the contest could be conducted primarily by mail or drop off of preference cards, with Iowans selecting only one candidate to support.
“In order to continue to grow our party, we need to make changes,” said Ross Wilburn, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.
But the plan drew skeptical questions from some committee members who suggested it could be a caucus in name only, and really more of a primary. That would pit it against New Hampshire, which has passed legislation aimed at preventing other states from preempting its first primary in the country.
New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are widely expected to remain the first states, although the process is fluid and the order is up for debate, with Nevada directly challenging the position. New Hampshire on the schedule, a decision the Granite State likely won’t take lightly. .
In loot bags from the New Hampshire delegation, which included maple syrup and a mug from the state’s popular Red Arrow Diner, was also a pamphlet telling the story of the New Hampshire primary, dating of 1916. And in a sign of how seriously New Hampshire takes being the first primary, the state’s two U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, were on hand to plead the case.
“You can’t win a race in New Hampshire without talking directly to voters, and listening and absorbing their concerns,” Hassan said, arguing the benefits of subjecting Democratic presidential candidates to voter scrutiny. famous in the small state.
The committee could weigh many permutations for the order of the states. It’s also possible that the DNC’s rules and regulations committee will recommend adding a fifth slot in the early states, as large diverse states, including Georgia, submit a bid.
The committee is expected to make its recommendations in August, with final approval at the DNC meeting in September.
Earlier this year, the committee adopted a framework that emphasized racial, ethnic, geographic and economic diversity and worker representation; raised questions about feasibility; and stressed the importance of competitive general elections. This week, some committee members also alluded to concerns about holding early contests in states where Republican deniers hold or could win high state office.
Sixteen states and Puerto Rico have been selected to present this week, from New Jersey and Illinois to Washington State and Connecticut.
The search process comes just over two years after President Biden came fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, but won the nomination thanks to later and more diverse states. Potential White House preferences in the process would be significant.
“They know where we are,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who was asked Wednesday if she had spoken with Mr. Biden or the White House about Michigan’s bid. “I haven’t had a direct conversation, but our teams talk regularly.”
She also said she had made “a number of phone calls expressing my support and urging the committee to give us serious consideration.”
Behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts by committee members and other stakeholders are expected to intensify in the coming weeks.
The fiercest battle is over representation from the Midwest, especially if Iowa loses its spot in the top states. Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois are vying to become the new flagship of the Midwest’s premier states. Michigan and Minnesota are thought to be favored over Illinois for both cost and competitiveness reasons in the general election, although Illinois also made a forceful presentation, led by officials including Senator Dick Durbin.
“The Minnesota Lutheran in us — if you do a good deed and talk about it, it doesn’t count — but we get over it and talk about it,” said Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, whose fellow Democrats gave the kick-off. their presentation with a song by Prince and distributed Senator Amy Klobuchar’s hot dish recipe.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labour Party, has tackled concerns about diversity and relevance head-on in a general election.
“We’re going to disabuse you of two things: one, we’re just a bunch of Scandinavians with no diversity, and two, we’re not a competitive state,” he said, as his team handed out thick pamphlets highlighting the racial and geographic diversity of the state, including its rural population.
Michigan presenters included Senator Debbie Stabenow and Representative Debbie Dingell, who signed handwritten notes to committee members. One said, “Michigan is the best place to choose a president!” Their gift bags contained local delicacies like dried cherries and beer koozies commemorating the inauguration of Ms. Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, a party spokesperson said.
“We have the clearest and best case that Michigan is a real battleground, the most diverse battleground in the country,” Mr. Gilchrist said in an interview, calling it “a down payment on a apparatus for the general elections”.
Similarly, Ms. Dingell and Ms. Stabenow pointed to retail policy opportunities and the ability for candidates to learn early about the concerns of one of the nation’s largest contested states.
Minnesota and Michigan both need varying degrees of cooperation from Republicans to advance their primaries. Minnesota officials were is quick to note that all they have to do is convince the Republican Party of the state. Michigan requires approval from the Republican-controlled state legislature. Presenters from both states were asked about the possibility of involving the other side.
Minnesota released a list of Republicans who support advancing the state’s contest, including former Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Senator Norm Coleman. Members of the Michigan delegation noted the support they had from former Republican presidents and organizations like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
The Detroit News reported later Thursday that state Senate Republican Majority Leader Mike Shirkey indicated support for advancing Michigan’s primary, an important development.
(Officials from both states were also asked about their plans for dealing with winter weather. They pointed to their robustness.)
In contrast, Emanuel Chris Welch, the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, pointedly stated that “in Illinois there is no way Republican filibuster will distract us, delay us, or deter us.” to get into the state primary.
Some of Mr Biden’s closest allies were also present on Thursday as his home state of Delaware pushed for an early primary.
In an interview, Senator Chris Coons insisted he had not discussed the prospect with Mr Biden and was not speaking on the president’s behalf. But, he said, “Our state leadership is doing what I believe is in the best interests of Delaware. And I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be happy with the result.