Michigan governor signs law setting Jan. 15 presidential primary

LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Jennifer Granholm defiantly signed a bill Tuesday moving Michigan's presidential primaries to Jan. 15, urging top Democratic candidates to come to the state despite promising not to campaign here.

By moving ahead of Feb. 5, Michigan Democrats risk losing all their national convention delegates, while state Republicans risk losing half.

But those punishments may not hold. Some states are banking that whoever wins their respective party nominations eventually will restore the delegates.

And even with a no-campaign pledge in place, it appears there's room for the Democratic candidates to play a role in Michigan and Florida, which moved up its primary to Jan. 29.

Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, co-chairman of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Michigan campaign, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the pledge allows candidates' spouses to campaign in the state, allows the candidates to speak to groups of 200 or fewer people and doesn't ban fundraising. He expects Clinton to hold a Sept. 16 fundraiser in Michigan.

"I can put together thousands of people at 25 dollars a head," said Blanchard, although he added that won't happen if the Democratic National Committee says that violates the pledge.

"I know Hillary will want to honor her pledge. But I also know she has to campaign in Michigan," Blanchard said.

Michigan's move to Jan. 15 comes after Wyoming Republicans decided to jump their caucuses to Jan. 5, South Carolina Republicans moved their primary to Jan. 19 and Florida moved to Jan. 29. As many as seven states _ including Michigan _ signaled their intention Tuesday to flout Republican rules by scheduling their presidential primaries or caucuses before Feb. 5.

The four states originally leading off the selection process _ Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina _ pressured Democratic candidates to sign pledges vowing not to campaign in Florida or Michigan.

Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden signed the pledge in recent days, and Mike Gravel signed on Tuesday, according to Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman Carrie Giddins.

The prospect of those seven candidates bypassing Florida and Michigan would essentially turn those contests into nonbinding beauty contests, with no delegates at stake if the DNC imposed its punishment.

But the move also could harm candidates' chances in the two critical swing states. Michigan's jump to Jan. 15 has been popular among Republican presidential candidates, with most planning to attend a GOP leadership conference on Mackinac Island in September, according to state GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis.

Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said Iowa and New Hampshire _ not the Democratic candidates _ would be to blame if his state is flooded with Republican presidential candidates but their Democratic counterparts are nowhere to be found.

"That problem is created by Iowa and New Hampshire extorting candidates," he said. "When you get rid of that monopoly, you stop that."

Giddins said the Iowa Democratic Party would not respond to Brewer's remarks. The Iowa caucuses are set for Jan. 14, but may move earlier if New Hampshire moves up. New Hampshire Democratic Party spokeswoman Pia Carusone said Brewer voted to let Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina go first, but now is trying to change the rules.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell, both of Michigan, sent a letter to DNC Chairman Howard Dean arguing that the Democratic candidates should have to pledge they'll stop campaigning in New Hampshire.

They said it's unfair that New Hampshire won't lose any of its delegates if it changes its primary, now set for on the DNC presidential calendar for Jan. 22, to an earlier date to stay ahead of Michigan and South Carolina. The move also would jump New Hampshire ahead of Nevada's Jan. 19 caucuses, which were supposed to be the second contest nationally.

"Someone has to take on New Hampshire's transparent effort to violate the DNC rules and to maintain its privileged position," the letter said. "We are determined that Michigan not be bound by rules that are not effectively enforced against other states."

DNC spokesman Damien LaVera said it's wrong to say New Hampshire has moved up at this point, since it has not submitted a revised plan to do that.

"The letter is inaccurate," LaVera said. "At this point, the New Hampshire party's Democratic plan is consistent with our rules."

Granholm said holding the Michigan primary on Jan. 15 will put greater emphasis on issues affecting manufacturing, health care and alternative fuels, all top issues in this major industrial state.

"Our richly diverse electorate deserves a primary process that requires candidates to address the issues they will be held accountable for in the general election," she added. "With our move, we expect that this critical discussion will take place before, not after, party nominations are decided."

Michigan Republicans already have voted for rules adopting the presidential primary as the way they'll select their national convention delegates, but Democrats have yet to do so.

The Democratic Party's executive committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday night and could adopt the primary then, ending internal party scuffling over whether to hold a primary or a caucus. But it's likely to keep a presidential caucus as backup.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Kathy Barks Hoffman heads the Lansing AP bureau and has covered Michigan politics since 1986.


On the Net:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm: http://www.michigan.gov/gov

Michigan Democrats: http://www.michigandems.com

Michigan Republicans: http://www.migop.org