Illinois Democrats poised to bid to hold early presidential vote

Illinois Democrats are poised to make the case to the Democratic National Committee that Illinois should be among the states with the first presidential primary votes.

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Illinois will submit a bid to be an early primary state. The photo is of New Hampshire voters in 2020, when New Hampshire and Iowa had the initial presidential votes.

Illinois will submit a bid to be an early primary state. The photo is of New Hampshire voters in 2020, when New Hampshire and Iowa had the initial presidential votes.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times photo

WASHINGTON — Illinois Democratic officials are poised to make the case to the Democratic National Committee that Illinois should be among the states with the first votes in the presidential primaries, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Illinois, if it’s an early primary state starting in 2024, could become a power player in determining a Democratic presidential nominee.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee passed a resolution at its April meeting calling for a 2024 nominating calendar that reflects diversity; helps Democrats win the White House and “contributes to a fair and sound electoral process.”

For a practical matter, Iowa, the state with the traditional kickoff vote for Republicans and Democrats, will most likely lose its special status with Democrats. That’s because Iowa votes Republican in presidential elections; is not diverse; and has a much-criticized caucus voting system.

“There’s a real desire to have the states that go early reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party,” Rules and Bylaws Committee member Mo Elleithee told the Sun-Times, and are “inclusive as possible and bring in as many general election, battleground state voters as possible.”

Illinois Democrats, I am told, are in conversations to make the case that the state fits most of the DNC specifications. Nothing is official yet from the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Illinois is diverse in every sense of the word as defined in the DNC’s April resolution: racially, ethnically and geographically — that is Illinois has rural, urban, suburban and exurban voters — in a state that stretches from Wisconsin on the north to Kentucky on the south.

That Illinois is a union stronghold will also be part of the argument Democrats in Illinois will make, since organized labor — from the public unions to the trades — is a backbone of the Democratic Party.

And though it is not spelled out in the DNC specs, White House hopefuls on various places on the ideological spectrum will find the Illinois Democratic family is diverse, with progressives, moderates and centrists.

Most important, Illinois fits the feasibility threshold the DNC is demanding. Illinois can deliver on changing primary dates because state government is controlled by Democrats: Gov. J.B. Pritzker — who may mull a presidential run at some point — with the state House and state Senate holding solid Democratic majorities.

The other three current early states — New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — are expected to be able to be in the running to make the case to hold their early places in the Democratic presidential nominating process.

Illinois comes to this early vote bidding process with two downsides: Illinois is not a swing battleground state; it is solid blue for Democratic presidential nominees. Illinois, with about seven media markets, is also a more expensive state than some likely rivals to run television ads.

The DNC is asking interested states to submit a letter of intent by May 6 and a formal application by June 3.

States that end up in the running will be asked to make a presentation to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee at a meeting tentatively set for June 22-25 in Washington. A decision is expected after the DNC meets on Aug. 5 and 6.

The resolution said no more than five states will be allowed to hold the first votes. The DNC also wants at least one primary in each of its four regions: south, west, northeast and Midwest.

If Iowa is knocked out, the Illinois competition for the Midwest spot will likely be Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska, a source said.

The DNC, in its resolution said early vote states should reflect “the principle that our party’s diversity is its strength; puts Democrats in the best position to win across the ballot in November 2024; and contributes to a fair and sound electoral process.”

In 2020, Iowa voted on Feb. 3; New Hampshire on Feb. 11, followed by Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29. Most years, the Illinois primary is in March, with the Democratic primary field usually reduced by then to two or three frontrunners.

The Illinois General Assembly switched the primary from March to June 28 this year because the 2020 census results — needed to draw new districts — came in late.

In 2008, Illinois Democrats, eager to help then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., build a lead over Democratic presidential main rival Hillary Clinton, changed the primary to Feb. 5 — Super Tuesday, when a group of other states were also holding primaries.

Former state Senate President John Cullerton, a member of the DNC, predicted the Illinois General Assembly would be “willing to change the primary because we are a much more appropriate state than Iowa or New Hampshire.”

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