Governor Pushes for Earlier Presidential Primary in Md.

By Jonathan N. Crawford, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - In a bid to give Maryland more weight in presidential politics, Gov. Martin O'Malley says he wants to hold the state's primary election three weeks earlier, a move which could create a regional primary with Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Currently, the Maryland primary is scheduled for March 4, a date considered by many to be too late for a state's primary results to be relevant in the choosing of presidential nominees of either party.

O'Malley wants to move up the primary to Feb. 12. Similar moves are under consideration in Virginia and the District of Columbia, setting up the possibility that candidates would visit the state or at least find it prudent to purchase media time in the Baltimore-Washington market.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George's, said that as things now stand, "we're at the tail end of the dog."

"Nobody will come around. Everyone else has moved ahead of us. Nobody will visit Maryland," he told reporters after O'Malley submitted legislation to change the primary date.

But the legislation has aroused grumbling Republicans who say they were caught off-guard by the move.

"They consulted with Virginia and D.C. But they didn't consult with anybody in the minority party," said House Minority Leader Delegate Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert. "They should have consulted with us."

While the proposed date does not conflict with election schedule rules set by the Republican National Committee, O'Donnell said he wants to review the bill before endorsing it.

Maryland is just the latest state to push for an earlier date, according to Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State.

"Almost 30 states are on track to push their presidential nominating contests into January or February of 2008. That's compared to nine states that did so in 2000, and 19 states in 2004," she said.

But even a Feb. 12 presidential primary might put Maryland behind the pack. More than a dozen states, including such electoral-vote giants as California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Michigan, are shooting for an even earlier Feb. 5 primary.

According to Stimson, the 2008 election "will be the most front-loaded primary calendar in history."

Stimson's group wants the two parties to adopt a regional rotating primary plan that would divide the country up into four distinct regions and would rotate the order in which those regions vote for president every four years. The plan would leave Iowa and New Hampshire in place.

"The states want to be relevant to the selection process. But no one is looking out for the national interest and what's best for the majority of voters," she said. Stimson added that, in previous elections, studies show that roughly 8 percent of the electorate got to vote before the nomination was effectively decided. This results in very few people getting to have a say in who was nominated to become president.

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