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Illinois changing primary date for Obama's bid
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama arrives for a fundraiser Tuesday, June 19, 2007, in Cleveland. Obama began two days of raising funds Tuesday, trying to solidify his standing in strong Democratic areas of Ohio, a state expected to again be a key political battleground in 2008. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

SPRINGFIELD - In a move aimed at helping U.S. Sen. Barack Obama seal up early support in the presidential primary season, Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday approved a plan to move the 2008 Illinois primary voting date to Feb. 5.

In doing so, Illinois joins a number of other states changing their primary election dates, creating what some are calling a "Super-Duper Tuesday" that could decide the outcome of the nomination process.

Without mentioning Obama, a Democrat from Chicago, the governor said the move will give Illinoisans a louder voice in the presidential election process.

"Illinois is the fifth-largest state in the country. The people who live here deserve to play a bigger role in deciding who the presidential candidates will be," said Blagojevich, a Democrat.

The concept was floated in January by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who said changing the date could give the Illinois senator a jolt of early fund-raising momentum that would be otherwise lost if Illinois waited until the traditional third Tuesday in March to hold its election.

The measure was sent to Blagojevich with wide support in both the House and the Senate.

Although designed to benefit Obama, it also could have an effect on the wide-open Republican nomination process.

State Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, who is chairing Republican hopeful Mitt Romney's campaign in Illinois, said he did not think the change will affect Romney's chances for his party's nomination.

"With Illinois now being on Feb. 5, it's in play for every candidate for the presidency, and it will definitely be in play for Mitt Romney," Rutherford said.

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, who is backing Republican Rudy Giuliani for the presidency, agreed with Rutherford that it will neither harm nor help the former New York City mayor's chances.

But Mitchell, who voted against the proposal, said he expects the change to increase the role of money in campaigns.

"It frontloads the primary so those with money, huge amounts of money, can outcompete earlier," he said. "It makes money more important early on, and I don't think it helps the system at all."

Other states that also will hold their primaries on Feb. 5 include New York, California, Georgia, Missouri and New Jersey.

The change doesn't just affect the presidential race. It also moves up the date for local primaries, including those for Congress, the General Assembly and local government.

Jesse Smart, chairman of the state Board of Elections, said his office is prepared for the date change.

"The change kind of puts us on a tight schedule, but it's all manageable," he said. "We've been working on it, assuming it was going to happen, so now that it's signed, we've just got to implement what we've been planning."

Cris Cray, director of legislation for the election board, said the change will not cost taxpayers more money.

"Whether we did it in February or March, we will still have to hold a primary," she said. "We are just moving up the date. There are no new restrictions or anything like that, so I don't see any increase in the cost."

The legislation is House Bill 426.

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