Michigan GOP Looks to Boost Relevance with Ides of March Primary

The Michigan GOP is hoping an Ides of March primary will create enough interest and have so much influence on the selection of a presidential candidate that everyone from Jeb Bush and Scott Walker to Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz would beware of missing a chance at winning Michigan’s five dozen GOP convention delegates.

Michigan Republicans, if the state’s legislature approves the March 15 primary, would not be alone.

Other States Planning March Primaries as Well

Illinois and Missouri Republicans are scheduled to hold their primaries that day. Some in the Michigan GOP are hoping they could persuade the Indiana GOP to move its May 3 primary to March 15, and maybe even Ohio.

Ohio is set to hold its primary March 8. Given the two states’ historic animosity for each other — former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) actually had “Beat Ohio State” printed on Michigan’s official state road maps one year — chances of the Buckeyes joining the Wolverines on March 15 seem unlikely, at best.

Even though the Michigan GOP leadership is sold on the March 15 primary date, it is in the hands of the Michigan Legislature.

The Michigan Senate has approved the March 15 primary date, although some GOPers were pushing to join the Super Tuesday March 1 primary. The Michigan House is now considering the legislation.

Michigan House Elections Committee Chair Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R) said she will listen to those advocating a March 1 primary, as well as those pushing for a March 15 election. But she does not expect to be influenced by what other state GOP central committees might or might not do.

"We can't control what the other states are going to do -- some of them haven't made up their minds, some made up their mind and now they're considering switching days," she told MIRS News. "It's really hard to make decisions based on what other states are doing."

Why is this such a big deal? What’s in a primary date? By any other date, it is still a primary, right?

Michigan Sen. Dave Robertson (R), who sponsored the March 15 GOP primary legislation, told various media outlets that the purpose of his proposal was “maximizing our relevance” on the national political scene.

Yes, but increasing its influence on the presidential election is not the only reason the Michigan primary is being moved to March, whether it lands on the Ides of March or not.

Michigan Republicans decided last September they had to move their primary from February to March to be in compliance with Republican National Committee rules.

The RNC Only Allows a Few States to Hold Primaries before March 1

In the last presidential election, the RNC penalized Michigan Republicans for holding their primary in February 2012. The Republican National Committee allows only New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada to hold primaries, caucuses or elections before March 1.

Because Michigan held its primary in February, the RNC initially reduced the number of Michigan delegates who were allowed to attend the party’s national convention from 60 to 12.

But eventually the RNC relented. Michigan GOP leaders apologized. And the state Republican Party’s full delegation was seated.

No one in the Michigan GOP or the RNC wants to go through that again, so there was never any doubt that a February primary date was out of the question. But when to hold it in March is being debated one year before the GOP primaries are scheduled to begin.

If Republicans in the Michigan Legislature eventually go with the March 1 primary, and no one sweeps the early primaries in February, the state party would certainly have more influence on the selection of the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate.

Michigan Republican Party Communication Manager Says Primary Will Be on March 15

However, Darren Littell, the communications manager of the Michigan Republican Party, told PJM the state GOP’s central committee has decided on a March 15 primary.

To begin with, it would put the state party back in compliance with RNC rules.

But even more important is the idea that the Michigan GOP primary on March 15 could be a winner-take-all election, under RNC rules. Of course, Michigan Republicans are also hoping that format will increase interest in their primary and increase the state party’s influence on the selection of the GOP candidate for president.

“Sixty delegates is a pretty big prize for folks to come away with,” Littell said.

Even though the idea of Republicans in more states moving their primaries to March 15 primary does excite some in the Michigan political world, Littell said the Michigan GOP is not terribly excited by the idea of a longer list of state GOP central committees deciding to go with an Ides for March election.

“We want to do what is best for Michigan and make sure we are in a position to have as much influence as possible on who the next Republican presidential candidate is going to be,” he said.

Matt Wills, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, told PJM he is not worried about Michigan’s primary. Nor is he convinced more GOP delegates being up for grabs, if more state GOP central committees decide to move their primaries to March 15, would necessarily give the primary date more impact with voters.

“We might see a very clear-cut nominee by March 15 or a very clear indication that we are going to be in for a protracted event,” he said. “I think it is a great idea to keep it more regionalized.”

But Wills also admitted a larger slate of state GOP primaries that day couldn’t hurt.

“The more folks you have going on one day gives more credence to those states and the bigger primaries with the bigger primary catches are obviously going to be looked at a little more in depth,” he said.

Still, no one knows for sure what is going to happen in the February 2016 primaries.

If one candidate sweeps the voting and caucusing from New Hampshire to Iowa, the Ides of March primaries in Missouri, Illinois and Michigan could be nothing but full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.