Jim Morrill is reporting in the Charlotte Observer that there is support for moving the primary to a later date in the North Carolina House. Not surprisingly, Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd-Harnett), the House Elections Committee chair and the national committeeman from North Carolina to the Republican National Committee, has voiced a similar opinion to that of North Carolina Republican Party chairman, Claude Pope, Jr. On moving the primary back to March 1, Lewis said,
“It makes sense, I hope the General Assembly will act accordingly. I think it will maintain North Carolina’s relevancy and have the economic boost we all hope for.”But that support of moving the presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules seemingly ends at the chamber door. It does not stretch across the capitol building to the state Senate. Republican control of the General Assembly has been hampered at times between competing goals between the chambers and this extends to the presidential primary debate as well. Bear in mind, it was the state Senate that added the presidential primary date change to the controversial omnibus elections bill at the last minute in 2013. With time running out in the session, the House agreed to that change to get the bill -- including the voter ID provision that is now being challenged in court -- passed.
This primary date -- tethered to the South Carolina primary -- is the Senate's baby. And it shows in the comments from proponents of the likely February primary date in the upper chamber. Sen. Bob Rucho (R-39th, Mecklenburg), who is a member of the Judiciary I Committee that handles elections matter in the state Senate had this to say (again, via Morrill),
“Why should we be losing delegates? We didn’t cut in line. We haven’t made our argument to the (RNC) yet. I don’t see why March 1 is a special date. We think the people of North Carolina should have a say in regards to the presidential contest.”That is not an atypical argument from any state legislator whether proposing to buck the rules or just move a primary to an earlier date. But this does give us some idea of what now faces the orderliness of the 2016 presidential primary calendar. A disagreement between the chambers makes passing legislation to move the North Carolina primary that much more difficult if not impossible. If that issue is not solved, then the beef will be between North and South Carolina which will pull the national parties -- more the RNC given the partisan make up of decision-makers in the Carolinas -- further into the discussion. This situation has already seen what one might call light and indirect pressure from the RNC. The remaining pressure may come in the form of the super penalty. being levied against North Carolina Republicans if the primary is not moved.
But all may work out. If South Carolina schedules its presidential primary for Tuesday, February 23, 2016, then the North Carolina primary would follow on March 1; making everyone happy. Getting there is not that simple, though. South Carolina typically holds a Saturday primary. South Carolina Republicans also like at least a week between it and the next southern state on the primary calendar. That combination eliminates the possibility of moving the South Carolina Republican primary to the Saturday, February 27.
On top of that, how is one to interpret the North Carolina law if the state parties in South Carolina hold primaries on different dates? Does North Carolina follow the earliest primary? The Republican primary? That is not clear and there is no guidance in the North Carolina law to account for an eventuality that occurs in South Carolina more often than not.
This one could get messy before it is all said and done. But North Carolina will undoubtedly lose over 80% of its delegates if it continues on the course it is on unless the stars align to force South Carolina into an uncommon Tuesday primary.
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