The Michigan Primary: A Question Mark

Michigan legislators intend to pass a bill changing the primary date to Jan. 29, and there are ramifications for all the '08ers. Another bill sets the date on Feb. 5. But both state party chairmen -- Dem Mark Brewer and Republican Saul Anuzis -- worry about the glut of larger states holding primaries that day, and want to ensure that their state has influence.

If the legislature doesn't change the date, Brewer and Anuzis might act unilaterally. Because the state wouldn't pay for a primary, the Dems might, under that scenario, hold a caucus and the Republicans would probably hold a convention. A Democratic caucus would benefit candidates who have already organized lots of activists and those who've won the endorsement of the state's powerful labor unions.

A Republican convention would limit participation to all but the most die-hard party regulars -- they tend to be conservative, although an organized coalition of moderates could take advantage of divisions in the right.

Here's an analysis from MIRS News, a great MI news service, of who would benefit:

Several Democratic observers shared with MIRS their speculation that unions
may not be as thrilled about opening up the primary to the general public
because the results may not be as controlled. The state's unions appear to
be leaning more toward former U.S. Sen. John EDWARDS (D-N.C.). It's argued
their ability to get a higher percentage of their voters to participate is
increased with a caucus rather than a primary election.

On the other hand, it's argued supporters of frontrunner U.S. Sen. Hillary
CLINTON (D-N.Y.) or U.S. Sen. Barack OBAMA (D-Ill.) would do better in
Michigan with a public election. Brewer discounted these "conspiracy
theories" as typical talk from those without knowledge of how the Democratic
Party's system works. He said unions have no problem having a joint primary
as long as an agreeable arrangement can be worked out.

Some Republicans also wouldn't be heart-broken if talk of public primary
fell apart. Consider this: as things stand today, the Republicans have four
candidates who could conceivably win a primary election in Michigan - former
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt ROMNEY, U.S. Sen. John McCAIN (R-Ariz.), former New
York City Mayor Rudy GIULIANI and former U.S. Sen. Fred THOMPSON. All four
had between 20 and 14 percent support in the latest poll (See "Giuliani,
Clinton On Top Of Mitten," 7/12/07).

In a convention, where only a few thousand of the state's grassroots pick
the nominee, only two have a realistic shot - Romney and McCain. Only Romney
and McCain have substantial on-the-ground forces in Michigan. And only
Romney and McCain have announced support from district chairs, county chairs
and the like.