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Democrats’ next big fight: Which state goes first in the 2024 presidential primary

Democrats will meet in early December to discuss their primary calendar as Michigan looks to move up.

With the midterm elections barely in the rearview mirror, the competition is heating up among states trying to move up in the presidential primary lineup. And states that delivered for Democrats are making the case that they should be rewarded.

Michigan Democrats — led by Rep. Debbie Dingell — feel well positioned to join the coveted ranks of the early states, after they made huge gains in the Nov. 8 election. With Iowa facing possible eviction from the early states, many expect Democrats to elevate a Midwest state.

Democrats now have full control of the Statehouse in Lansing, which would allow them to easily change state laws to support a new date for the 2024 primary.

“It does change the calculus,” a Democrat with knowledge of the discussions among national party leaders who requested anonymity to speak freely said after Michigan Democrats claimed a trifecta in the governor’s office and the two legislative chambers. “Michigan jumps over Minnesota, it’s just that simple. Minnesota was the fallback. Michigan is a key state.” 

The Democrat said one of the key factors that will be weighed is what kind of power Republicans hold in state offices, including governor and legislative chambers. 

“There has to be a clear path for cooperation,” the person said. 

Minnesota Democrats have been making their own pitch to represent the Midwest in the early states. And they also won a “trifecta” this month — the governorship and both chambers of the Legislature.

With its relatively cheap media markets and small population, Minnesota argues it would be a more level playing field for presidential candidates without access to big money.

But it's also a relatively safe blue state, making it less important as a battleground.

Last week, Dingell laid out her plan to move Michigan to the top of the nominating calendar — and potentially even into one of the first two spots currently occupied by Iowa and New Hampshire — asking members of the state party’s central committee to support her bid to fill a vacant seat on the Democratic National Committee, where she plans to make the calendar move her “primary focus.”

“No two states should have a monopoly on the first primary and caucus,” she said in a letter, obtained by NBC News. “The states of Iowa and New Hampshire have wielded enormous political power because of their coveted early spots in the primary elections.”

She explained that her pitch would be that Michigan is a critical swing state with the racial, geographic and economic diversity that Democrats say they are looking for in a new early state.

“Michigan is one of the best places to pick a President,” she wrote. “Key groups that Democrats need to persuade and turn out to win national elections are the backbone of our state. Michigan is the most diverse battleground state, and a microcosm of America.”

Unspoken in her letter is that many expect Iowa, which is viewed as too white and too red, to lose its coveted first-in-the-nation spot. If so, there will likely be a desire to replace it with a Midwest state to complement the other three early states, which are currently New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Michigan moved up its primary in 2008 without approval, which led to the DNC halving the number of votes the state’s delegates got to cast at the national convention.

The DNC’s rules and bylaws committee is scheduled to meet in early December in Washington to discuss the presidential primary schedule. 

The discussion comes after Democrats scrapped the old calendar and opened up the process so all states could apply to be early contenders. These early positions are prized since they create an economic bump in states that are flooded with advertising dollars and on-the-ground organization. 

The old system began with caucuses in Iowa, went to the New Hampshire primary, then Nevada and finally South Carolina. 

The reasons to start anew were many, but among them was the argument that Democrats should invest in battleground states rather than states like Iowa, which only became redder after Democratic presidential candidates invested tens of millions of dollars into the state. 

The White House and party leaders say states such as Iowa and New Hampshire are too homogenous in race and ethnicity, not reflective of either the Democratic electorate or the diverse coalition that ushered Joe Biden into office. 

This week, Nevada Democrats attempted to leverage their party’s midterm performance into an early state slot — including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory that decided the Senate majority. Nevada Democrats this year have mounted an aggressive campaign to supplant New Hampshire as the first-in-the-nation primary.    

The entire Nevada Democratic congressional delegation is sending a joint statement to the DNC on Thursday, urging members to elevate Nevada to the first spot.

“By securing the Democratic Senate majority this year and delivering presidential victories four cycles in a row, Nevada has cemented the argument for why we should hold the first presidential primary,” said the statement from the Nevada Democratic congressional delegation, which was first made available to NBC News. “Nevada is a working class, pro-labor state with one of the most diverse populations in the country and a commitment to voting rights that is a model for the nation."

And Monday, one of Nevada’s top Democratic strategists, Rebecca Lambe, wrote a memo making the case, including that the state has a sizable Latino population (who make up roughly 1 in 5 voters). That makes Nevada an important testing ground for Democratic presidential contenders, which is critical given that the party is losing ground with the electorate in other parts of the country.

“Nevada looks like America — and Nevada going first will help Democrats win future presidential elections, more so than any other state under consideration,” she wrote. 

In interviews, Democrats in competing states privately grumbled that Nevada’s vote tallying last week took too long. A delay in the outcome was a significant issue with Iowa in 2020, when Democratic presidential primary candidates headed into New Hampshire without a clear winner declared, blunting momentum for front-runners. Nevada’s most populous county, Clark, was counting vote-by-mail ballots through Saturday, when a Senate race winner was finally declared. 

A Democrat working on Nevada’s push said the DNC has laid out criteria for early state consideration and voter access is a top concern. The person also noted that similar delays did not occur in the summer primary where there were competitive races largely called the same night.

Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Washington, and Natasha Korecki from Chicago.