PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rhode Island lawmakers, in a bid to make their tiny state matter in presidential politics, voted Tuesday to move the state's presidential primary up to Feb. 5, joining 21 other states.
Lawmakers working during a special session Tuesday evening hastily rewrote a bill that had died earlier in the year. It passed with little debate in the Democrat-dominated House and Senate.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Don Carcieri said earlier in the evening that he would not veto the bill if it passed.
Rhode Island is perennially overlooked in presidential races. It has just four electoral votes in the general election and rarely attracts presidential candidates for anything but trips to private fundraisers.
State Sen. Leo Raptakis, the bill's sponsor, argued that Rhode Island would become politically irrelevant if it didn't move its primary up from March 4.
"If you wait until March 4, the race is over," Raptakis said. "The disservice would be that Rhode Islanders aren't going to go out to the polls because their votes (are) going to be irrelevant."
Carcieri and others have said moving the primary is unlikely to change the Ocean State's importance in presidential politics. State Rep. Robert Watson called on Carcieri to veto the proposal.
"When California and New York are rolling out their primaries that same day," Watson said, "do you really think that anybody is going to come to this state between now and Feb. 5 and seek the small number of votes they could get?"
Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University, said the skeptics are probably right.
"Half the states are holding primaries on that day, so Rhode Island still is going to get lost in the mix," West said. "February is still better than March, because the whole race certainly will be over by March."