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Minnesota DFL pushes to become first presidential primary state

Minnesota isn't the only contender looking to leapfrog the Iowa caucuses.

ST PAUL, Minn. — This week, the Democratic National Committee will decide which states get the first say in picking a presidential nominee. 

The DNC is open to moving away from the Iowa Caucuses as the first test of presidential candidates, and Minnesota DFL leaders are pushing for the opportunity.

Understanding why Minnesota - or any other state - would want the first crack at a presidential primary isn't all that complicated.

"It does bring that outsize national attention," said Brian McClung, KARE 11 political analyst and CEO of Park Street Public Government Relations. "If you're one of the early states, you get a lot of interest from the national media. That translates to additional coverage on the national level, which kind of helps you out when it comes to national politics."

But there's a big difference between wanting that coveted spot and getting it.

"There really hasn't been a pathway until now," McClung said.

For the last 50 years, Iowa's caucus system has been entrenched in the political landscape of presidential politics, but extensive issues during the 2020 caucuses, which featured long delays in results and computer issues that led to an audit by the Democratic National Committee, led the party to open up bids for a new frontrunner.

Combine that opportunity with a new DFL trifecta in Minnesota, and party leaders say they have the ability to make the necessary changes to give the DNC a new option.

"Iowa and New Hampshire have had this outsized role in presidential politics for decades," McClung said. "And they are states that are not representative of the country. They are very white states, they are largely rural states, and so trying to find some states that you'd put sooner in the process that are more diverse seems to be worth doing and I think that's what Democrats are doing with the process right now."

In its bid to the DNC, state party leaders emphasized Minnesota's high voter turnout and long track record of civic engagement. And in a statement on Monday, party Chair Ken Martin expanded on the message he'll bring to national party leaders in Washington D.C.

"This week, the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee is meeting to decide which states will hold the earliest contests in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary.

While nothing is certain yet, I believe Minnesota's high voter turnout and strong tradition of civic engagement makes us a top contender to be one of those four early states. Plus, presidential primary candidates who can win Minnesota will be well-positioned to win their general elections too. After all, to be successful in Minnesota, candidates need to win over voters in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and they will need to appeal to an electorate that is rapidly diversifying.

It would be an honor and a privilege for Minnesota voters to be given such an important role in nominating future Democratic presidential candidates, and I look forward to the Rules and Bylaws Committee's decision."

But Minnesota isn't the only state that is in a good position to make a compelling case. Michigan is also considered a frontrunner for an early contest, following a similar blue wave this year, which would allow state leaders to make the necessary changes.

Kent Erdahl: "What do you think the chances are that Minnesota gets it over a Michigan or somewhere else?" 

McClung: "You know I think right now it's probably a 50/50 coin toss between the two of them. Both states had the state legislature and their governor's office go blue in this election, in this election that happened earlier this month. Where Minnesota makes a particularly good case is in our voter turnout and in our real history of a thoughtful, engaged electorate. Where Michigan makes a good case is it's probably the most diverse of the battleground states."

Any change will likely lead to political bickering and headaches between republicans and democrats in the impacted states. The GOP has already committed to keeping its top early states intact, meaning Minnesota could end up having two separate primaries for the next presidential election.

Beyond that, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is among state Republicans who support a similar move to an early primary.

In a Tweet this summer, Pawlenty wrote, "MN should move up its presidential primary so it’s held at or near the start of the process. MN's tradition of incredible civic engagement would add huge value to the nominating process for both major parties."

"This has been a long time coming and just having the same system of Iowa, New Hampshire and the other earliest states has not really served either party terribly well," McClung said. "I think whether Minnesota wins this week and becomes one of those early states or not, Minnesota should continue to make the case about why we would be a good state early in the process for both political parties."

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