Michigan is poised to dominate presidential politics

Illustration of a magnifying glass examining the state of Michigan

Image: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Michigan is nearing entry into the early 2024 Democratic primary window, a major shake-up after months of intense lobbying and an official state Senate vote supporting the effort.

Why it matters: The calendar change, if endorsed at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure Committee this weekend, would have a seismic impact on President Biden’s party.

  • It would also cement Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — once a top pick for Biden’s running mate — as a Democratic star with the potential to one day be a formidable presidential candidate herself.
  • The possible postponement comes after Whitmer was conveniently elected to a second term and Democrats flipped the state legislature for the first time in 38 years, making Michigan one of the party’s best midterm success stories.

Driving the news: The Michigan State Senate voted Tuesday night to move the date of the state’s presidential election to the second week of February, fighting for an elusive position in the pre-Super Tuesday window.

  • Michigan and Minnesota are the two top contenders to become the first Midwest state on the calendar after Iowa fell out of favor with Democrats over the 2020 caucus debacle and broader diversity concerns.
  • Michigan looked like a tougher sell before Democrats regained full control of state government. Now Democrats can unilaterally make changes to the calendar without GOP support.

The big picture: The sheer size difference between Michigan and Iowa would dramatically change the incentives for future campaigns.

  • Michigan is the 10th largest state in the nation by population and awards more primary delegates in 2020 than the other three early states combined: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
  • Starting the primary process in Michigan would favor wealthy candidates and fundraisers at the expense of grassroots outsiders.
  • The early voting window in the primary calendar has traditionally prioritized the interests of smaller states where retail policy reigns supreme.

Zoom in: Not only is Michigan a battleground that Biden reclaimed from Donald Trump in 2020, it’s also ground zero for hot-button issues that are inciting Democrats across the country — including abortion and the right to vote.

  • It is also a state with a strong union presence that has been hit hard by economic downturns.
  • Whitmer won her 2018 gubernatorial campaign on a promise to “fix the damn roads,” focusing on infrastructure in a cycle where left-wing progressive candidates have often been the loudest.

The scenery: Iowa’s lack of racial and ethnic diversity is a major issue Democrats have grappled with for years.

  • Some Democrats question Michigan’s relatively low Latino and AAPI representation compared to a state like Nevada, which is also committed to moving up the calendar.
  • Pro-Michigan Democrats say the state would increase the wealth of union-backed candidates, increase the influence of black voters and bring renewed attention to the state’s sizable Arab-American constituencies.
  • Women hold Michigan’s top three statewide offices (governor, attorney general and secretary of state), and up-and-comers like Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Senator Mallory McMorrow are cementing Michigan’s reputation as a Democratic star factory.

What you say: “Michigan represents America in a way no other state does. Our two peninsulas are home to every type of voter – conservative, progressive, moderate – in every type of community – urban, rural, suburban,” Whitmer said in a statement to Axios.

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell echoed the state’s diversity argument, but stressed that Democrats cannot ignore white unionists. “We’re losing them again in a way,” she told Axios. “Joe Biden works hard, but they look at our caucus and think, ‘These are coastal elites who don’t give a damn about us.'”
  • “Elections are won and lost in the Midwest,” she added.
  • House Majority Whip James Clyburn (DS.C.), a close Biden ally, pretty much backed Michigan’s role in the early window in a Washington Post interview last week: “If it’s Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan , that’s almost ideal for me,” Clyburn said.

Yes but: Some Democrats working in other early states worry that Michigan could become a “giveaway” for billionaires or billionaire-backed candidates who could buy their way through the contest with TV ads, large staffing and extensive travel.

What we observe: Biden — a big Whitmer fan — was in Michigan this week to present his vision for domestic manufacturing and semiconductors, just days before his party’s critical decision on the main calendar.

  • Whitmer will also be in DC this week for a donor event at the Democracy Alliance conference.
  • As party leader, Biden’s perspective on the calendar change will likely be a determining factor.

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