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

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

Party leaders and state lawmakers made the decision this 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,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said Monday. “In order to be relevant, and actually be a part of this and have an impact, we really need to move it up.”

Without the change, Washington’s primary would have been held in May. States are rushing to move their dates in an effort to get a bigger say in primary politics, which have long been dominated by early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

“If we were a state that’s really in play, we’d get a lot more attention” by candidates, Reed said. “Right now we’re getting random visits, and a lot of the motivation is to raise money.”

Under state law, a nine-member committee made up of political party leaders and state elected officials of both parties can change the primary date. The vote to change the date was unanimous, including yes votes by Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser and Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz.

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

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. They also have three party officers who are “automatic delegates.”

The state Democratic Party, as it has in prior years, will ignore the results of the statewide vote and instead allocate its 80 elected delegates using the results of its caucuses, where voters will meet in their precincts to discuss candidates and elect delegates. They’ll also have 17 “super delegates,” elected officials and high party officers who are free to back the candidate of their choice at the conventions.

The Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver the last week of August 2008. St. Paul, Minn., will host the Republican National Convention the first week of September 2008.

Reed said the fact that 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.

Washington’s primary was created in 1989 through an initiative to the Legislature. It was first used in 1992, and Democrats have never used the outcome to allocate delegates. Republicans have used it to varying degrees over the years.

Lawmakers canceled the primary in 2004, when only the Democratic nomination was contested.