GOP plans March 8 Michigan primary

Chad Livengood and Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The state Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Rick Snyder legislation establishing next year’s presidential primary on the second Tuesday in March, a move intended to attract GOP presidential hopefuls and get Michigan issues addressed.

The March 8, 2016, primary date is a week earlier than the Michigan Republican Party’s executive committee wanted and means Michigan can’t hold a winner-take-all contest for its 59 GOP delegates. But the move, which the Republican governor is likely to sign, likely would attract more presidential candidates to the state and won’t penalize Michigan with the loss of delegates for violating party rules — as initially happened in 2012.

John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign adviser, Nicolle Wallace, applauded the Legislature for moving Michigan’s primary closer to the four traditional early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Michigan’s economic importance makes it a significant place for candidates to try to win delegates who will choose the GOP nominee at the July 2016 national convention in Cleveland, she said.

Republican presidential candidates should adopt a “very aggressive strategy” of trying to win Michigan to regain the White House because it is a key to winning nationally, said Wallace, a former communications director under President George W. Bush and a co-host on ABC’s “The View.”

“If you make your economic message relevant in Michigan … it bodes well for you nationally,” said Wallace, who is scheduled to speak at the Michigan Political Leadership Program’s annual dinner Thursday at Laurel Manor Banquet and Conference Center in Livonia.

A former political adviser to President Bill Clinton agreed, though he noted that Democratic presidential candidates have won Michigan in every election since 1992.

“It’s a smart move to try to be relevant in the nomination process,” said Doug Sosnik, a Democratic consultant who also will speak at the Michigan Political Leadership Program dinner.

The Michigan Democratic Party has not decided whether to hold a primary on March 8 or hold party-funded caucus meetings on a different date, as it did in 2004 and 2012, spokesman Joshua Pugh said Thursday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but hasn’t announced plans to run.

GOP presidential aspirants have visited Michigan in the past year. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush laid out his vision for a “right to rise society” in a speech this month at the Detroit Economic Club, designed to show that a conservative Republican can care about urban centers. He also campaigned for Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan Republicans in October.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has visited the state twice in the last two years, including helping to open the Michigan GOP’s office in Detroit. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigned here several times for Snyder; he is scheduled to address the Macomb County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day fundraising dinner on March 27.

Under the Republican National Committee’s rules, only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada can hold primary elections, caucuses or conventions before March 1. March 15 is the earliest date states can hold a winner-take-all presidential primary.

As a result, Michigan’s March 8 primary format would have a different way to allocate delegates to candidates. Three delegates would be awarded to the GOP candidate who wins each of the state’s 14 congressional districts. The remaining 17 delegates would be split up proportionally based on each candidate’s share of the statewide vote.

But a candidate would have to win at least 15 percent of the vote to win some of the proportional delegates.

Michigan’s Republican legislative majority pushed through the presidential primary date change to comply with a Sept. 14 state party committee decision to stop butting heads with the national party and its desire to protect the traditional early-primary states.

In 2012, the RNC initially penalized Michigan Republicans with fewer delegates for holding a primary in February. Eventually, all of the Michigan delegates were seated at the August 2012 Republican nominating convention.

The Republican state committee recommended a March 15 primary, which the GOP-controlled Senate green-lighted a week ago.

But Republicans in the House amended the legislation Wednesday to set the primary election a week earlier, citing concerns that the March 15 date would overlap with annual property tax assessment appeals held in rural townships during that same week. The Senate approved the two amended bills Thursday, 37-1.

State GOP spokesman Darren Littell said “we’re OK” with lawmakers’ decision to make it March 8.

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