- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

Virginia Democratic officials say they are considering rescheduling presidential primaries to allow more Virginians to participate not to bolster the presidential aspirations of U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, as some speculate.
"We passed a resolution to explore moving our date up so more people could participate," said Betty Jolly, president of the Virginia Democratic Party. "Our primary exploration change has nothing to do with John Edwards."
Mr. Edwards, a freshman senator, is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, having been on former presidential candidate Al Gore's short list of potential running mates in 2000. Speculation abounds that he will run for president in 2004.
Under the current primary system, Virginia Democrats caucus in April to help select the presidential nominee. Activists have criticized the system as being irrelevant, saying the national contest has already been decided by April. In 2000, Mr. Gore had secured the Democratic nomination by the second week in March.
By contrast, Virginia Republicans hold their presidential primary in late February.
"Right now, Democrats are at a disadvantage," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmeri. "That [late] date takes away attention from the candidate, and it's confusing."
The DNC has issued a statement saying it will recognize primary results as early as Feb. 3 when South Carolina and Missouri conduct their primaries.
Political advisers say privately that if the Virginia Democratic primary were held Feb. 3, Mr. Edwards would make a strong, early showing in the presidential race with the results from two states that neighbor North Carolina South Carolina and Virginia.
"It might not necessarily be good for the party, but it might benefit John Edwards," said a national Democratic adviser, who asked not to be identified.
The adviser added that Mr. Edwards would likely appear to be the strongest candidate, when that might not be the case.
Democrats send 4,356 delegates to their national convention, with 98 being from Virginia.
"I don't know whether the people who work for me have [spoken to Virginia Democrats]. It's possible. But I have not," said Mr. Edwards, who has not yet said whether he will seek the presidency in 2004.
For Virginia Democrats to change their primary date, Gov. Mark R. Warner would have to sign legislation calling for the change during the next General Assembly session.
"This is all in the preliminary process," Mrs. Jolly said. "This is just step one. We have no hidden agenda."
"This is not something we are looking at or the governor is pushing at this time," said Ellen Qualls, press secretary for Mr. Warner, a Democrat.
Mr. Edwards, 49, has several top political strategists with Virginia roots, including the campaign manager who ran Mr. Warner's successful bid last year.

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