Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
When North Carolina lawmakers moved up the date of the state’s presidential primary in 2013, they said it would give the state a louder voice in the nomination process.
May, they argued, was too late to have any meaningful influence. So they pushed the primary up to February and later, when that threatened the loss of convention delegates, to March.
But by the time North Carolinians vote on March 15, the nominations may be all but wrapped up.
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Democrat Hillary Clinton appears poised for a big win Saturday in South Carolina. She has nine events a day in the state through the end of the week. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, won’t even be in the state Wednesday and Thursday.
From South Carolina, Clinton is expected to do well in the mostly Southern Super Tuesday states on March 1 – and beyond. Polls show her with leads in virtually every state outside Sanders’ native New England.
And that doesn’t count her edge in super delegates. She leads Sanders 502-70 in one count.
Republican Donald Trump, meanwhile, is on a roll coming out of his big double-digit wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina. He leads polls in virtually all of the Super Tuesday states.
A new Quinnipiac poll out Tuesday showed he even leads Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Ohio. And Real Clear Politics shows him with an average 21-point polling lead in Florida, home to rival Sen. Marco Rubio. Like North Carolina, both states vote March 15.
According to Josh Putnam, an expert on the primary process, half the delegates needed for nomination will have been allocated by the time North Carolina votes.
“Usually, the leader in the delegate count at that point goes on to clinch the nomination,” says the Charlotte-born Putnam, who teaches at the University of Georgia.
Because Democrats award delegates proportionately, Clinton may pull away slowly, he says. But the same rules would would make it harder for Sanders to catch up.
Putnam said North Carolina might matter if the GOP race has winnowed down to Trump and one other candidate. If it stays about where it is, Trump could have a delegate lead too big to lose.
So instead of the early primary giving North Carolina more influence on the race, the state could simply be joining others in the coronation of the 2016 nominees.
South Carolina postscript
When I went down to Rock Hill’s Magnolia Room last week for a Jeb Bush event, I was struck by the number of people there who were still undecided in the race.
That included people such as orthodontist Kevin Miller who wanted to hear what Bush had to say. He ended up voting for Rubio. Or Billy Hagner, who was trying to choose between Rubio and Ted Cruz, but not Bush.
As it turned out, Bush finished last in York County, just like he did in Greenville and several other counties.