(CNN) – Members of the Republican Party of Virginia's State Central Committee voted Friday to eliminate the statewide primary in favor of a party convention vote to choose its nominees in the upcoming 2013 campaign.
The move comes in the middle of a campaign for the party's nominee for governor between Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, supported by many state GOP leaders, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite.
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"I am disappointed in the State Central Committee's decision, which will effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Virginia Republicans, and all active duty military personnel, from participating in the nomination of our candidates. If we want to grow our party we have to involve more people in the nomination of our candidates, not fewer; and I believe that we do that through primaries, not party conventions," Bolling said in a statement. "This decision creates the impression that our party is an exclusive party, as opposed to an inclusive party, and that is not the message we should be sending to the people of Virginia."
Political analysts see the change as a boost to Cuccinelli, a leader among state attorneys general to overturn President Barack Obama's health care law. Bolling has the backing of party establishment, including endorsements from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who represents Virginia's 7th district.
Both candidates for governor made clear on Friday they respect the vote and will work within the new structure to obtain the party's nomination next year.
"We have made it clear from the beginning that we were prepared to run and win in whichever method of nomination the State Central Committee decided was best for the party," said Noah Wall, political director of Cuccinelli's campaign. "We will aggressively pursue a convention strategy for 2013 – however until November our political focus is aimed at making sure we win Virginia for George Allen, Mitt Romney and our congressional candidates."
The committee voted 47-31 with one abstention to change the process. While the vote was split, the debate during the meeting was very cordial, according to the state party.