Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Virginia Senate Bill to Move Presidential Primary to March Passes House

Following a third reading of the Senate bill that would move Virginia's 2012 presidential primary from the second Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in March, the commonwealth's House of Delegates passed SB 1246 (97Y, 1N) today. There is an analogous House bill (HB 1834) still in Senate committee, but even with that bill out there, this would presumably clear the way for the Senate bill -- having now been passed by both chambers and assuming no amendments were added in House -- to move on to Governor Bob McDonnell's desk. And given the level of bipartisan support, the governor's signature should prove a formality.

If that is the case, Virginia would become the first state to move its presidential nominating contest during the 2011 state legislative sessions. Arkansas shifted back in 2009 and Illinois did likewise last year. Hawaii Republicans opted for a February 2012 caucus in 2009 -- up from May -- and Montana Republicans abandoned their February caucus for the June state-funded primary in 2010.

UPDATE: Here's the rundown of the situation from The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman. Most instructive:

"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."

The governor's signature seems like a formality given that he has already provided some input on the matter. As for March 6 being the "new Super Tuesday", we'll see. Several states are moving in that direction with legislation, but ten states have remained silent thus far -- two because their legislative sessions have not convened yet.

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