The Michigan Saga
Trials and Tribulations in Determining the State's 2008 National Convention Delegations

Michigan's early January 15 presidential primary violated the rules of both national parties, and the parties imposed penalties, reducing their delegations to the national conventions.  Democrats in particular underwent many trials and tribulations in determining their delegation.  The story is closely tied to Sen. Carl Levin (D)'s spirited and protracted effort to challenge New Hampshire's privileged first-in-the-nation status. 

Levin was the driving force behind a resolution approved by the 2004 Democratic National Convention calling for creation of the DNC Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling (background).  The Commission met during 2005 and issued modest recommendations at its final meeting in December, including the recommendation that new pre-window states be added to the calendar to increase diversity in the early phase of the campaign.  In April 2006 Michigan Democrats applied to the DNC for Michigan to be one of the new early pre-window states (application); however the DNC ultimately approved Nevada and South Carolina.

Democrats set a preliminary caucus date of February 9, 2008, but Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer warned in a March 2007 that that could change.  “There is also a consensus among our leaders that if any state schedules its caucus or primary in violation of the DNC’s rules, Michigan will move its Caucus to an earlier date.  That earlier date may be on or before the date of the offending state’s caucus or primary” (statement).  On June 11, 2007 Florida Democrats announced plans to hold their primary on January 29, 2008 (press release), in violation of DNC rules, prompting Mark Brewer to repeat his vow to go early.  "December is a possibility for us," Brewer told The Detroit News, saying he would wait to see what developed.  (See: Gordon Trowbridge.  "State Dem chief: We'll vote early."  The Detroit News.  June 12, 2007).  In August 2007 the New Hampshire Secretary of State indicated his intention to hold the state's primary in advance of the January 19, 2008 date set out in the DNC rules. 

On August 25, 2007 Brewer presented Michigan's plan for February 9 caucuses, complete with three methods of voting: at 219 voting centers around the state, by mail, or by Internet, to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.  However, events were moving on another track.  On August 22, 2007, the Republican-controlled State Senate approved by a vote of 21 to 17 S.B. 624, which, as amended, required a statewide presidential primary election on January 15, 2008 (the original bill set a date of January 29) (reactions).  On August 30, the Democratic-controlled House passed the legislation by a vote of 67 to 34, and the same day the Senate passed a concurred version of the bill (letter to candidates).  Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) signed the measure into law on September 4 (press release).  Brewer pointed to "New Hampshire’s stated intent to move their primary before January 19th, in direct violation of the DNC rules," as a rationale for participating in the January 15 primary, despite the prospect of penalties (statement) and Sen. Levin also weighed in (letter).

Despite Michigan Democrats efforts to encourage campaigning in the state, the major Democratic candidates had pledged not to "campaign or participate in any state which schedules a presidential election primary or caucus before February 5, 2008, except for the states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina" (pledge).

The Democratic and Republican state party chairs had a September 11, 2007 to submit to the Secretary of State names of potential nominees for the presidential primary [M.C.L. 168.614a(1) as amended under PA 52 of 2007].  Democratic chair Mark Brewer submitted eight names to the Secretary of State to appear on the ballot (Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel, Kucinich, Obama, Richardson).  Potential presidential nominees so listed who did not want to appear on the ballot could submit an affidavit with the Secretary of State by 4:00 p.m. on October 9.  Five?Four Democrats did so: Biden, Edwards, ?Kucinich, Obama and Richardson (statements).

Adding to the confusion, the law setting the January 15 primary was challenged.  On October 24 Mark Grebner, an East Lansing political consultant, filed suit challenging the constitutionality of a provision of the law granting exclusive rights of voter lists to the Democratic and Republican parties (related).  In November 2007 Ingham County Circuit Court Chief Judge William E. Collette issued an order prohibiting the January 15 primary.  The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling on November 16.  There were efforts to pass a legislative remedy and the parties prepared back-up plans (press release).  Finally on November 21 the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower court rulings (reactions).  The ACLU also weighed in on January 11, 2008, filing suit in the U.S. District Court in Detroit challenging the constitutionality of the law, but the primary went ahead.

On November 27, after New Hampshire moved its primary to January 8, Michigan submitted a revised delegate selection plan with the January 15 primary date.

State Republicans endured some uncertainty, but the GOP candidates did campaign in Michigan.  The state party had established a 2008 Presidential Selection Committee (resolution).  Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis noted that, "A joint, State-run Primary with the Democrats on or before February 5 was, is and remains our preferred option" (message).  However, given the Democrats' uncertainty, there was also a proposal to hold a State Convention as "the best back-up plan should an agreement on a primary not be reached" failed.  On July 17 the MI GOP's 2008 Presidential Selection Committee voted 13-2 to recommend a State Convention as the best back-up plan (a reaction), but the Policy Committee voted against that recommendation.  When the January 15 presidential primary came under legal challenge, Republicans looked to hold a state convention on January 25-26, 2008 (press release).  There was some talk about whether a convention would benefit one or another of the candidates, but the point became moot with the state Supreme Court's November 21 ruling.

Meanwhile RNC and the DNC imposed penalties on the respective state parties for setting their primary too early in violation of party rules.  On October 22, 2007 the RNC Executive Committee voted to penalize New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming by half their delegates to the the Republican National Convention for starting their delegate selection in advance of February 5, 2008.  At its meeting on December 1, 2007 the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee denied Michigan Democrats' request for a waiver and voted to penalize them 100 percent of their delegates (press release).  (At its August 25, 2007 meeting the Rules and Bylaws Committee had imposed a 100 percent penalty on Florida).

Official results showed 594,398 votes cast in the Democratic primary on January 15; Clinton obtained 55 percent and Uncommitted 40 percent.  On the Republican side Romney won with 38.9 percent of the 869,169 votes cast.

In mid-February 2008 Gov. Granholm appointed Sen. Levin, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, DNC Member Debbie Dingell, and UAW President Ron Gettlefinger to attempt to resolve Michigan Democrats' delegate dispute with the DNC.  The Working Group recommended Michigan hold a state-run, privately funded primary, and in March there was a flurry of activity on the Democratic side around a possible revote.  In a March 10 op-ed in the Washington Post ("Delegates We Need"), Govs. Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ) and Edward G. Rendell (D-PA), both Clinton supporters, argued for a revote in both Florida and Michigan and volunteered to help raise the funds to pay for such elections.  The Obama campaign showed no enthusiasm for the proposal, instead arguing for a 50-50 split of the delegates.  A cartoon by The Detroit News' Henry Payne brilliantly captures the notion of a revote.  The drawing portrays Obama and Clinton as runners far into a marathon, when a course official tells the tiring duo that they are going to rerun two stretches of the race (MI and FL).  In any event the revote did not happen.  The legislature failed to act on the matter before it adjourned on March 20; in early April the state party ruled out a revote.

Press Releases on the Revote  
    March 5 - Florida and Michigan Governors:  "Don’t Silence 5,163,271 Americans" >
    March 5 - DNC:  "Dean Statement on Florida and Michigan" >
March 7 - Sen. Levin:  "Statement on Michigan Delegate Dispute">
    March 12 - Hillary Clinton for President:  letter, press release on seating delegates from FL and  MI. >
    March 12 - Obama Michigan co-chairs:  "Vote by Mail Not an Option" >
    March 14-17 - Various statements >
    March 19 - Groups weigh in: Michigan Change to Win, Michigan GOP >
    March 19 - Hillary Clinton for President:  "Obama’s Re-Vote Pledge: Just Words" >
    March 20 - Gov. Jennifer Granholm:  "We will turn our attention to other options" >
    March 26 - Clinton and Obama campaigns:  statements following U.S. District Court ruling >
    March 31 - Rep. Stupak proposal >
    April 4 - Various statements >

The Working Group then came up with a "split the difference" allocation compromise proposal between the 50-50 split advocated by Obama and the split reflective of the primary results advocated by Clinton.  The Michigan Democratic Party executive committee approved this proposal on May 7 (press release).  On May 12 the Michigan Democratic Party filed a challenge with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee seeking to seat the full 157-member delegation at the Convention in Denver, with the pledged delegates allocated according to the compromise proposal (challenge, also letter).  The Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) took up the Florida and Michigan challenges at its tense, closely watched meeting on May 31.  The Michigan situation was seen as the more difficult of the two because of the fact that unlike in Florida not all the candidates had been on the ballot; it was a flawed primary.  The RBC accepted the state party's compromise on allocation, over the strong protests of Clinton advisor Harold Ickes, but it could not let the violation of the window go unpunished.  While Michigan would send a full delegation to the convention, the RBC determined that each delegate would only get half a vote (reactions).  However, in an August 3 letter presumptive nominee Sen. Obama urged the Credentials Committee, when it meets on August 24, to grant the Michigan and Florida convention delegations the “full vote” in the interests of party unity (letter).

ema 06/02/08 updated 08/03/08

Copyright © 2008  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.