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Posted at 1:20 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Virginia chooses 2012 presidential primary date, ending 'Potomac Primary' schedule

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Virginia will hold its presidential primary election in 2012 on March 6, a date three weeks later than in 2008 and one that will likely mean the region won't repeat that year's Potomac Primary.

In 2008, Virginia, Maryland and the District all held their primary elections on Feb. 12. With a hotly contested nominating process still underway between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the region's primary took on major importance.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has suggested April 3 for Maryland's primary, in a bill now under consideration by the General Assembly. And under legislation pending before the D.C. Council, the District would hold its presidential primary on the second Tuesday of June.

The changed dates are a response to new primary scheduling rules agreed to jointly by the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee that are designed to halt the clamoring among states to set their primaries earlier and earlier, extending the presidential campaign season.

Requiring later primaries is also designed to make it difficult for a candidate to rack up an insurmountable number of delegates early in the process and force candidates to campaign across the country.

Under national parties' new rules, Iowa and New Hampshire would retain their status as the nation's first contests, held in February, joined by South Carolina and Nevada. But other states are generally encouraged to hold their primaries no earlier than April.

Under the RNC's rules, states can choose to hold votes in March, provided convention delegates chosen at those elections are awarded to candidates in proportion to the percentage of the vote they received, rather than through a winner-take-all system.

DNC rules also allow March primaries but give states additional bonus delegates if they choose a date in April or later.

By choosing the March 6 date, Virginia has selected the earliest possible date it can hold its primary and abide by both national parties' rules without penalty.

"We're still going to be early," said Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester), who sponsored the bill. She is a lawyer who specializes in election issues and helped advise the RNC as it considered the new rules.

The Virginia House of Delegates adopted a bill setting the date on a bipartisan 97 to 1 vote on Tuesday. The bill has already passed the Senate and will now go to the governor. Vogel said it was written with Gov. Bob McDonnell's input, and she expects he will sign the measure into law.

"Democrats, Republicans and the governor joined hands to make sure we were together on this important issue," she said.

Vogel said that Virginia is dealing with the scheduling issue earlier than other states but that it is likely that a number of states will choose March 6 for their primaries, in an attempt to hold their elections as early as possible under the new party rules. She said the date could emerge as the nation's "new Super Tuesday."

O'Malley's spokesman said he has suggested April 3, however, so the state can win bonus delegates under DNC rules.

Rokey Suleman, executive director the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said the District's June proposal is designed to save the cash-strapped city more than $1 million by having the presidential primary on the same day the city will be holding primaries for local offices. Suleman said the three states have had no conversations about trying to choose a joint date.

-Washington Post staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 15, 2011; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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