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With Swag and Swagger, State Democrats Vie for Front of Presidential Primary Line

WASHINGTON — High-ranking Democrats handed out gift bags and glossy pamphlets, which became poetic about New Hampshire’s Manchester Airport and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Midwestern manners barely concealed a growing rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota.

And state leaders are deploying spicy surrogate operations and tightly produced ads as they entered a high-stakes process that will define the most sweeping stage of the Democratic presidential nomination calendar.

Following the disastrous 2020 Democratic primary in Iowa, in which the country’s longtime caucus state struggled for days to deliver results, members of the Democratic National Committee are considering drastic changes in the way the party chooses its presidential candidates. The most important step in that process yet came this week, as senators, governors and Democratic presidents from across the country strolled through a conference room in Washington to pitch members of a key party committee about their visions for the 2024 primary calendar.

Democratic state parties have formed alliances, recruited Republicans — and in Michigan’s case, turned to retired basketball star Isiah Thomas — as they advocated major changes to the traditional process or made an effort to defend their early state status.

“Tradition is not a good reason to maintain the status quo,” the narrators of Nevada’s video said, as state officials bid to hold the first nomination contest. “Our country is changing. Our party is changing. The way we choose our nominees needs to change too.”

Four states have launched the Democratic presidential nomination contest in recent years: Iowa and New Hampshire from the early state, followed by Nevada and South Carolina. But Iowa faced sharp criticism over both the 2020 debacle and lack of diversity, and in private conversations this week, Democrats grappled with whether Iowa was among the top four states at all.

Aware of the criticism, Iowa officials on Thursday suggested overhauling their caucus system, usually a personal 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 preference card submission, with Iowans selecting only one candidate to back.

“To continue growing our party, we need to make changes,” acknowledged Ross Wilburn, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.

But the plan raised skeptical questions from some committee members who suggested it could be a caucus in name only, and actually more like a primary. That would clash with New Hampshire, which has passed legislation to prevent other states from running ahead of their first in the nation.

In general, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are expected to remain as early states, although the process is fluid and the order is up for debate, with Nevada directly challenging New Hampshire’s position on the calendar, a move the Granite State probably won’t take it lightly.

In swag bags from the New Hampshire delegation, including maple syrup and a mug from the popular Red Arrow Diner in the state, there was also a brochure with the history of the New Hampshire primaries, dating back to 1916. And as a sign of how serious New Hampshire Takes As it was the first primary, both U.S. state senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan were on hand to defend the case.

“You can’t win a race in New Hampshire without talking directly to voters, listening, and addressing their concerns,” said Ms. Hassan, who advocated the benefits of Democratic presidential candidates submitting to the scrutiny of the famous critical voters of the small state.

The commission could weigh many permutations for the order of the states. It’s also possible that the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will recommend adding a fifth early-state slot, as large, diverse states, including Georgia, bid for consideration.

The committee is slated to make its recommendations in August, with final approval at the DNC’s September meeting.

Earlier this year, the committee approved a framework that emphasized racial, ethnic, geographic and economic diversity and labor representation; questions about feasibility; and stressed the importance of competitiveness in the general election. Some committee members also pointed this week to concerns about holding early contests in states where Republican election deniers hold or could win high positions in state.

Sixteen states and Puerto Rico made the move to present this week, from New Jersey and Illinois to Washington and Connecticut.

The search process comes just over two years after President Biden placed fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, but won the nomination based on later voting and more diverse states. The White House’s potential preferences in the process would be significant.

“They know where we stand,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday, asking if she had spoken to 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 made “a number of phone calls expressing my support and urging the committee to give us strong consideration.”

Behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts from committee members and other stakeholders are expected to intensify in the coming weeks.

The fiercest battle involves representation from the Midwest, especially if Iowa loses its early state slot. Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois are vying to emerge as the new early state flag bearer in the Midwest. Michigan and Minnesota are thought to be favored over Illinois for both the cost and competitiveness of the general election, although Illinois also gave a strong 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’ll get over that and talk about it,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, whose Democratic colleagues began their presentation with a song by Prince and distributed Senator Amy Klobuchar’s hot dish recipe.

Ken Martin, the chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, struggled head-on with concerns about diversity and relevance in general elections.

“We’re going to strip you of two things: one, that we’re just a bunch of Scandinavians with no diversity, and two, that we’re not a competitive state,” he said, as his team distributed thick pamphlets detailing the state’s racial and geographic diversity. including the rural population.

Michigan presenters included Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Representative Debbie Dingell, who signed handwritten notes for committee members. One read, “Michigan is the best place to elect a president!” Their gift bags contained local treats such as dried cherries and beer koozies commemorating the inauguration of Ms. Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, a party spokesman said.

“We have the clearest and best case that Michigan is a real battlefield, the most diverse battleground in the country,” Mr. Gilchrist said in an interview, calling it “a down payment on a general election device.”

Likewise, Mrs. Dingell and Mrs. Stabenow opens up the possibilities for retail politics and the opportunity for candidates to familiarize themselves early with the concerns of one of the country’s largest disputed states.

Both Minnesota and Michigan require: different degrees of cooperation of Republicans to push up their primaries. Minnesota officials were: quick to note that they just need to convince the Republican state party. Michigan requires the approval of the Republican-controlled legislature. Presenters from both states were questioned about the feasibility of getting the other side on board.

Minnesota has released a list of Republicans who support moving the state 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 such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The Detroit News reported later Thursday that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey had expressed his support for moving the Michigan primary, an important development.

(Officials from the two states were also asked about their plans for dealing with wintery weather. They emphasized their hardiness.)

In contrast, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch said emphatically that “in Illinois there is no chance that Republican obstruction will distract, delay, or deter us” from moving up in the state primaries.

Some of Biden’s closest allies were also in attendance Thursday as his home state, Delaware, called for an early primary.

In an interview, Senator Chris Coons insisted that he had not discussed the prospect with Mr Biden and that he was not speaking on behalf of the president. But he said: “Our state leadership is doing what I think is in the best interest of Delaware. And I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be happy with the result.”

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