Michigan Republicans Fighting Over Primary, and Giuliani and McCain Are In Bed Together

In Michigan, proxies for three leading Republican candidates are fighting a back room battle over the state's 2008 Republican primary. Trying to mediate is the state party chair, Saul Anuzis, who must negotiate between his constituents -- the Republicans in Michigan -- and the presidential campaigns.

Yesterday, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), a supporter of ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, wrote to members of the Republican state committee to protest rules changes that she claims will help a small cadre of conservative activists at the expense of other Republicans.

Here's the background: the state party and the presidential candidates have publicly endorsed a jointly-held presidential primary run by the state on Feb. 5 or earlier. This will happen only if the legislature passes and Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) signs a bill setting the date. The state senate is expected to send its version of the bill to the state house as early as Thursday. If the bill gets to Granholm's desk, she'll sign it.

Both parties have fall-back options in case the bill fails. The Democrats might hold a caucus; that benefits labor and potentially a labor-allied John Edwards. Or they could hold a regular primary, presumably to the advantage of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. DNC rules require a "closed" primary -- only registered Democrats can participate.

Miller's complaint is threefold. First, she worries about the "or earlier" part of the bill. That's because the RNC has promised to penalize any state that holds a delegate selection contest before Feb. 5.

And she's particularly worried about the preference of the GOP state party's presidential committee to prepare a delegate selection convention on Jan. 25-26, just in case.

"I cannot understand why we as a party would want to suffer the consequences that holding a convention...would bring," Miller writes in the letter, a copy of which was sent to this column by a sympathizer. "I believe this process does nothing to broaden the electorate, garner our party any valuable information, or improve our appeal as a party."

Anuzis, in an e-mail, said he is aware of Miller's objections.

"I have made Giuliani's, McCain's and Romneys' preferences and strategy known to our entire State Committee and county chairs," Anuzis said in an e-mail. "I fully understand the Congresswomen's concerns about our fallback position of holding an early state convention to chose our national delegates."

In her letter, Miller insists she is not writing on the Giuliani campaign's behalf. But her concerns mirror those expressed by Giuliani's political advisers. For them, it's most convenient, strategy-wise, for Michigan to choose delegates on Feb. 5 or later. Going earlier breaks with their master plan, which is to use momentum from a Florida victory on Jan. 29 to collect hundreds of delegates on Feb. 5. If Michigan holds a primary on Jan. 29, it will dilute the momentum effect provided by Florida. Giuliani could still do well, but he'd have to work for it from the same starting position as the other candidates.

If Michigan Republicans held a convention -- that most narrow of delegate selection processes that favors party activists -- on Jan .25, Giuliani would not, needless to say, be the frontrunner. Florida would not have that week to itself. McCain doesn't want a convention either, but his team -- including the RNC committeeman Chuck Yob -- has won them before.

Other rule changes rankle the McCain and Giuliani campaigns and have the potential to deprive incumbent Republicans in Michigan of some of their institutional advantages All contested voting will be done by paper and by secret ballot. Campaigns will therefore be deprived of leverage. Real voting machines will tabulate the ballots. And alternate delegates would be given the freedom to support whichever candidate they wanted.

McCain's backers in the state object to a provision granting precinct delegates a leg up in becoming state convention delegates. In their mind, that violates the principle of majority rule. The change would effectively make it more difficult for a majority of, say, 51% to own the delegate selection process or for a precinct or district chair to award delegates en masse to their preferred candidates.

Miller and some of the presidential campaigns argue that Michigan is a diverse state and the delegate selection process ought to reflect it. Anuzis considers it his duty to give Republicans in the state a say in the '08 nomination process.

Needless to say, if the primary is held on Feb. 5, none of this matters. If it's held after Feb. 5, it matters less -- no one's Feb. 5 strategy is upended.