Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Winner-Take-All Presidential Primary Clears Hurdle in North Carolina

On Wednesday, September 23, the North Carolina Senate Committee on Rules and Operations considered HB 373, the bill that would move a now consolidated primary -- presidential and other offices -- to mid-March.

The date of the presidential primary election has been a (near) certainty for a while now, but it was unclear what new items, other than shifting up the May primary for state and local offices, would make it into the conference committee report. It was also uncertain whether all of the provisions in the most recent versions of the bill would carry over.

The March 15 date was in there. The consolidated primary was in there. So too, was the winner-take all provision altering the traditionally proportional allocation method North Carolina parties have used through much of the post-reform era. This continued inclusion of the winner-take-all delegate allocation language is of note for a number of reasons

First, it aligns North Carolina with two other winner-take-all states on March 15: Florida and Ohio. That is 237 delegates that could be split among a number of winners (one in each state) or depending on the winnowing process could go to just one winner. The latter contingency -- one candidate winning all 237 delegates -- would be in a commanding lead in the delegate count. And with those delegates alone would be nearly 20% of the way toward the 1236 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

The move away from proportional allocation to a winner-take-all plan was also something that supporters of Scott Walker, chief among them Senator Bob Rucho (R), had guided through the legislative process to this point. With Walker bowing out of the race for the nomination earlier this week, the strategic need for a winner-take-all primary may also have disappeared. That did not seem to be the case today as Rucho indicated the move to an earlier winner-take-all was about increasing North Carolina's voice in the process.

Finally, the winner-take-all language would come into some conflict with the rules of the North Carolina Republican Party regarding delegate allocation if passed. The party rules do defer to both national party rules and state statute (which the winner-take-all provision would be if passed and signed into law), but do call for the proportional allocation of national convention delegates based on the results of the presidential primary. Yet, RNC rules give precedence to state party rules in those cases of these types of disputes. And while those issues between the state party rules, the national party rules and the likely new state statute have not necessarily been squared, there are no signs of any storm clouds on the horizon. The state party is not raising any concerns over this legislative change at this point. And it is unlikely to with the RNC deadline to finalize delegate selection plans looming next week.

HB 373 is on the calendar in both the House and Senate for Thursday, September 24.

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