(AP) Minnesota Republicans will gather for precinct caucuses a month early next year, joining the rush to weigh in on the presidential race on "Super-Duper Tuesday."
The GOP's executive committee voted Tuesday to hold caucuses on Feb. 5, spokesman Mark Drake said. No further approval is needed, and state Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has said he doesn't have a problem with the earlier date.
Minnesota Democrats are poised to move their caucuses up, too. The party's executive committee has already recommended the move, but an official vote won't happen until a party meeting in late September.
"We're a battleground state and we think it's important that Minnesotans - Democrats and Republicans alike - have their voices heard early in the process," Drake said. "We didn't want to get left behind."
Iowa kicks off the presidential winnowing process on Jan. 14, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida later in the month. Thus far, at least 18 states, including Minnesota, have set Feb. 5 for presidential primaries or caucuses, including California, New York and Illinois.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez said support for an earlier primary is strong among DFL leaders. He predicted significantly higher turnout if the caucuses happen in February instead of March, when the nominee may already be picked.
"If voters are actually given the chance to choose the next president of the United States, they're more likely to show up," Melendez said.
The caucuses start the process of determining who represents Minnesota at the parties' national conventions, although the delegates aren't picked until the state party conventions several months later. In 2004, Minnesota sent 41 delegates to the Republican National Convention and 88 to the Democratic National Convention.
Independence Party Chairman Craig Swaggert said his party's leaders will discuss caucus timing at a meeting later this month. He said they support the concept but have legal questions about moving the date without legislative action. A bill to reschedule the caucuses passed the state Senate in May but never got a vote in the House.