PARKERSBURG - The West Virginia Republican Party voted Saturday to hold a primary election, rather that a state convention, to select the state's presidential candidate.
The state's GOP executive committee voted 79 to 25 in favor of a primary. The vote took place Saturday at the committee's summer meeting in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Wood County GOP chairman Greg Smith, a member of the West Virginia Republican Steering Committee, said he would have liked to see the state hold a convention, but he understood the concerns of the citizens.
"The will of the committee is best. Obviously, the majority felt we should go back to a primary election," Smith said. "We received a lot of calls in the past few months from concerned voters who didn't like the way the convention went in 2008. I think those phone calls really influenced the way the committee voted."
Many Republicans argue a convention would allow the state to choose a presidential candidate before the primaries across the nation are in full swing and the front-runners are established.
The party drew up some changes to the convention process to make it more inclusive to those who felt alienated by it in 2008. Smith said the state's steering committee tried to be more inclusive in its new rules and procedures regarding a convention. Those would have required advertising and conducting county elections prior to the actual convention.
Opponents of the convention argued the process alienated members of the general public and Independent party members who often vote in the Republican primaries.
"In the end, the committee listened to the concerns of the people. I'm glad we had the vote. We were able to give everyone a chance to look over the changes and rules we proposed and solicit everyone's opinion," said Smith. "Perhaps we'll try again in four years."
Last week, the Wood County GOP met and voted 12-5 to return to the state primary election. Smith said the county GOP's lack of support foreshadowed the vote outcome this weekend.
"The state Democratic Party is proceeding with its plans for a state convention in June, so there will be two different processes for each political party," said Smith. "The state Republican Party will just be voting once, in the May (2012) Primary."
Parkersburg resident Rick Modesitt, state GOP executive committee member, said he felt the primary election was the way to go, even though there are benefits to a convention.
"For those that supported the convention process, there are definitely merits, politically and financially," he said. "It makes West Virginia more relevant in the election process, and the convention is income-producing for the state because all the candidates must pay to participate," said Modesitt.
"But at the end of the day, those benefits just weren't substantial enough and many people still felt alienated by the convention process. It's important to us to maintain that open-tent scenario so we can involve as many Republicans and Independents as possible," he said.
Modesitt said the Republican party cannot risk losing votes.
"We are the minority party in the state, so we cannot afford to lose even one voter," he said. "The overwhelming reason behind the vote was, we just didn't want to leave anyone out."