Michigan Democrats and Republicans are moving closer to holding a closed presidential primary that would be the first joint primary in 16 years, people familiar with the negotiations said Friday.
Top-level Democrats discussed Friday whether to have a primary or a caucus, with opinion leaning toward holding a primary on Jan. 15, according to those in on the negotiations who asked not to be identified because the matter is not yet resolved.
They added that a mid-January primary would make the state more relevant in choosing the presidential nominee, although backers of presidential candidate John Edwards prefer a caucus.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's spokeswoman, Liz Boyd, confirmed that there was a conference call by party leaders "that agreed to an early primary that will make Michigan extremely relevant in the presidential nominating process."
"We anticipate an earlier date will be settled upon," Boyd said. "It's a good decision because it allows Michigan to put front and center the issues of health care, trade and manufacturing before whomever the next president will be."
Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer, who still plans to present plans for a caucus to the Democratic National Committee as a possible alternative, said no agreement has been reached, but "we still are open to negotiations on a primary."
State GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis told The Associated Press that Republicans would back a Jan. 15 primary if Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Republican, and Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon propose legislation to hold the primary on that date.
The move would put Michigan ahead of the South Carolina Republican primary, which last week moved up to Jan. 19, and the Nevada Republican and Democratic caucuses, also scheduled for that date. It also could give New Hampshire more impetus to move up its primary to early January to keep its first-in-the-nation status, and may encourage Iowa to hold its caucuses in 2007.
"Republicans have said all along that holding a presidential primary on February 5 or earlier is in the best interest of the state of Michigan," Anuzis said Friday. "It ensures maximum participation by Republican activists and supporters."
Anuzis added that, while holding a January primary is not Republicans' first choice, holding a Jan. 15 joint primary with Democrats would put Michigan at the forefront of the presidential race.
Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who led the effort to end the lock Iowa and New Hampshire had as the first two presidential contests, had suggested Michigan go as early as Jan. 8. But fears that clerks would have trouble handling absentee ballots over the December holidays and that candidates might not come during the holiday period put a damper on going that early.
Michigan last held a joint closed presidential primary in 1992, but the parties moved away from it because voters didn't like having to register their party preference with a local clerk before they could vote.
To vote in next year's presidential primary, voters would have to allow elections officials to record whether they choose a Republican or Democratic ballot at the polling place. That information would go to the political parties, but no public record would be kept and no party registration would be required.
State Elections Division director Chris Thomas said a joint primary would drastically increase the number of people who would choose Michigan's presidential favorites next year.
More than 1 million people voted in the 1992 presidential primaries, compared to about 160,000 who voted in the Democratic presidential caucuses in 2004, a year in which no GOP primary was held. About 5,000 GOP delegates would choose a Republican nominee at a state convention next year if a joint primary isn't held.
Michigan Republicans held a 2000 presidential primary that was open to all voters. But Anuzis said it was clear independents and Democrats voted in that election, something both parties hope to avoid by having elections officials record which ballot voters take if a joint primary is held.
Both national parties have tried to keep states from moving their primaries into January, saying they will penalize states that schedule nominating contests before Feb. 5 by withholding half of their delegates to the conventions next summer.
That didn't keep Florida from moving up its Republican and Democratic primaries to Jan. 29, or South Carolina Republicans from moving their contest to Jan. 19. Iowa is scheduled to hold its contest Jan. 14 and the DNC wants New Hampshire to go on Jan. 22, but both are likely to move up their elections as other states move ahead.