Washington will hold its presidential primary Feb. 19, joining a national stampede of states to hold primaries earlier in the year. Party leaders and state...

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OLYMPIA — Washington will hold its presidential primary Feb. 19, joining a national stampede of states to hold primaries earlier in the year.

Party leaders and state lawmakers made the decision Monday afternoon.

So far, more than 30 states are either holding their presidential primaries and caucuses before March or are considering doing so.

“The primaries have been moving up more and more. In order to be relevant and actually be a part of this and have an impact, we really need to move it up,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said.

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State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser also supported the action. “We risk having the whole process completed and our primary being irrelevant if it’s too late,” Esser said.

Without the change, Washington’s primary would have been in May.

States are rushing to move their dates to get a bigger say in presidential primary politics, which have long been dominated by early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Under state law, a nine-member committee made up of party leaders and state elected officials of both parties can change the primary date. The vote Monday was unanimous.

Previously, state Republicans and Democrats had pushed for different primary dates but ultimately agreed to mid-February.

There was even some discussion of holding the primary Feb. 5, but officials backed away after learning they could be joined by more than 20 states the same day.

Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz referred to the date as “stupid Tuesday,” arguing that piling up states on the same day doesn’t give voters enough time to vet the candidates.

Holding the state’s primary Feb. 19 should provide enough breathing room for voters and could help focus national attention on this state, some committee members said. Wisconsin is also holding its primary Feb. 19.

Reed said he’ll try to get Oregon and Idaho on board, too.

Although Washington is moving its primary, voters will only have a partial say in allocating delegates to the Republican National Convention in 2008.

State Republicans will allocate about half of their delegates based on the result of the statewide election.

Of the party’s 40 delegates to their national convention, 19 will be allocated based on the primary and 18 on party caucuses. Republicans also have three party officers who are “automatic delegates.”

The state Democratic Party, as in prior years, will ignore the results of the statewide vote and instead allocate its 80 elected delegates using the results of its precinct caucuses. It will also have 17 “super delegates,” elected officials and party officers who are free to back the candidate of their choice at the conventions.

Both parties will hold their caucuses Feb. 9.

Reed, a Republican, said the fact Democrats will ignore the state primary doesn’t make it less relevant.

Nowadays, it’s a foregone conclusion who will win the party nomination by the time the national conventions are held, he said. “In essence, the delegates are an audience for an infomercial for the person who is running for president of the United States,” he said.

What’s more important in the election process is the debate and media exposure candidates get during the primaries, he said.

Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or agarber@seattltimes.com. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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