Michigan Takes First Step on Moving Presidential Primary to Jan. 15th

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate voted Wednesday to move the state's presidential nomination contests to Jan. 15, further roiling an already turbulent nomination schedule that has raised the possibility of voting before New Year's.

Approval of the switch is far from sure. The Michigan House must still pass the measure, and a disagreement among state Democratic leaders over whether to hold a primary or a caucus is complicating final action.

Republicans control the state Senate, Democrats the House, so changes in the measure are likely. State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said the Senate bill contains language that doesn't comply with national party rules and therefore is unacceptable.

If Michigan moves to a Jan. 15 primary from early February, it's likely Iowa and New Hampshire will move up their first-in-the-nation contests.

As a state with a large number of delegates to the nominating conventions, Michigan would command considerable attention from candidates if it moved to a mid-January date.

A number of prominent Michigan Democratic leaders, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, favor holding a presidential primary with the Republicans. State GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis has agreed on a Jan. 15 primary if the Democrats agree to hold one.

Supporters of presidential candidate John Edwards are pressing for a Democratic caucus instead of a primary in Michigan. Edwards has strong support among organized labor, whose influence might be magnified in a caucus where the ability to turn out voters willing to attend party meetings is critical.

National Democratic leaders have threatened to penalize any state that attempts to hold its nomination contest in January with the exception of four states designated to lead off the nomination season - Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

However, that hasn't stopped Florida from moving its primary for both parties to Jan. 29 and South Carolina Republicans from moving theirs to Jan. 19.

Those moves have led Iowa and New Hampshire, which jealously guard their positions as the nation's first presidential caucus and primary states, to consider moving up their contests as well.

"If this legislation were to become state law, the New Hampshire primary would be no later than the eighth of January," New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner said after the Michigan Senate vote.

Michigan and the other early states are presenting their voting plans for approval at a meeting in Washington Saturday where the Democratic National Committee will try to restore some order to the system.

Brewer plans to present Michigan's plan for a caucus, which he wants to hold in January, probably on a Saturday. If a caucus were held, votes could be cast weeks ahead because the rules allow voting by mail and over the Internet beforehand.

Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who supports Edwards, said in a letter released Tuesday night that he opposes a presidential primary.

He didn't mention Edwards, instead saying it would be irresponsible to hold an expensive, state-paid primary at a time when the Michigan budget is strapped.

Democratic leaders who support a primary were drafting their own letter saying the cost of a primary was worth it because voter turnout would be much higher.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a Delaware senator, said in a statement that he opposes Michigan's effort to move its primary into January because it would replace "the retail politics of Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire with a process in which the only credential necessary to be president is to be the wealthiest candidate."

Meanwhile, South Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler said she would not ask to move her state's primary date. The calendar jumping is an issue the Democratic National Committee's rules committee will take up this weekend, she said.

South Carolina Democrats are to hold their primary Jan. 29 - the same day as Florida, which moved up its primary despite a threat from both national parties that they would withhold half the state's delegates to next summer's national conventions.

South Carolina Republicans recently leapfrogged Florida and moved their primary to Jan. 19 from Feb. 2 to maintain their first-in-the-South status. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson says he's not moving his party's primary regardless of what Michigan does.

He's irked, however, that South Carolina's primary now may end up in Michigan's shadow. If Michigan moves, it may mean he has to set a different date for the final pre-primary presidential debate in South Carolina.

No date has been publicly announced, but "I'm thinking about moving the date right now," Dawson said.