Politics & Government

GOP senators cool to moving 2016 primary

An effort by the head of North Carolina’s Republican Party to move back the state’s 2016 presidential primary could hit a roadblock – from Republican senators.

GOP Chairman Claude Pope has asked lawmakers to move the primary from mid-to late February to March 1. That’s because the national Republican Party is threatening to slash the state’s convention delegation from one of the nation’s largest to one of its smallest.

Rules enacted by the Republican National Committee say only Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina can hold nominating contests in February 2016. Any state trying to squeeze in stands to lose all but a dozen of its convention delegates.

In 2013 the General Assembly voted to move the state’s traditional May primary to the first Tuesday after the S.C. contest in order to give the state more clout in the presidential selection process.

“Our legislature had all good intentions,” Pope wrote in a release. “They thought that by holding a primary after South Carolina, they would avoid any penalties imposed by the RNC.

“They assumed wrong. What our legislators did not foresee is simply this – the crowded field of presidential wannabes will not step foot in our state. They will not visit the fire stations, rotary clubs, and rubber chicken dinners. They won’t ride in the parades, eat barbecue, kiss babies, or spend their millions fighting over just 12 delegates. So, good-bye economic boom-let. Good-bye to relevance, and good-bye to any influence on the national level.”

GOP House leaders said Tuesday they’re inclined to go along with Pope’s request.

“It makes sense. I hope the General Assembly will act accordingly,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee. “I think it will maintain North Carolina’s relevancy and have the economic boost we all hope for.”

But Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican and Senate leader on election issues, said GOP leaders plan to defend their primary schedule.

“Why should we be losing delegates? We didn’t cut in line,” he said, alluding to the position of the first four states. “We haven’t made our argument to the (RNC) yet.”

Rucho said by piggybacking closely on the South Carolina primary, North Carolina could save time and money for the candidates and help condense the primary schedule, an avowed aim of the national party.

“I don’t see why March 1 is a special date,” Rucho said. “We think the people of North Carolina should have a say in regards to the presidential contest.”

A spokeswoman for Senate GOP leader Phil Berger said Rucho speaks for him on the issue.

But one election calender expert said the national party isn’t bluffing about penalizing delegates.

“The RNC has shown over the course of the last couple cycles that they’re serious about enforcing these penalties,” said Josh Putnam, an Appalachian State University political scientist and author of a blog called FrontloadingHQ.

“They mean business because the alternative as they see it is to make the penalties even stronger next time around, and I don’t think North Carolina wants to be the guinea pig for that.”

Already several Southern states – including Texas, Tennessee and Virginia – plan March 1 contests. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are considering joining them in what some are calling an “SEC” primary.

Morrill: 704-358-5059