Minn. Democrats Join GOP in Advancing Presidential Caucuses to Feb. 5th

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota Democrats announced Tuesday they will join Republicans in moving their caucuses up to Feb. 5, when two dozen states are set to hold presidential preference contests.

In July, the state GOP authorized the switch from the previous date for both parties' contests, joining a movement nationwide to accelerate the presidential nominating process.

"Earlier caucuses will give Minnesotans a greater say in who will be the next president of the United States, and will hopefully engage more Minnesotans in grass-roots politics," said Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Chairman Brian Melendez.

Minnesota has held caucuses in March since 1991, but leaders of the two parties feared their respective nominees would be chosen well before then. State law designates the Tuesday after the first Monday in March as the caucus date, although the parties say they don't believe they are bound by the statute. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has said he wouldn't stand in the way of the earlier date.

Leaders of the DFL Party overwhelmingly voted in a mail ballot to hold the caucuses earlier than usual. Eighty-nine percent of the party's central committee supported the change.

Seeking to leap to the front of the pack, Florida has moved its primary to Jan. 29 and Michigan is in the process of moving to January. Both risk punishment from the Democratic National Committee. The DNC's rules panel voted last week to strip Florida of its convention delegates unless state Democrats move back the primary until Feb. 5 or later.

The rush to hold votes sooner has put pressure on Iowa and New Hampshire to adjust their political calendars in order to maintain their traditional status as the nation's earlybirds, raising the possibility that the Iowa caucuses could be held before New Year's.

The Nevada caucuses and South Carolina's GOP primary are also set for January.