N.C.’s primary puzzle

From an editorial Tuesday in the Greensboro News & Record:

Legislators opened a Pandora’s box of problems when they decided two years ago to tinker with North Carolina’s presidential primary date.

Their latest idea for a fix is anything but – although it might put the fix in for their own re-election.

Anticipating a highly contested Republican presidential primary campaign in 2016 and unhappy with North Carolina’s May date, lawmakers chose a new place on the calendar: the first Tuesday after South Carolina’s primary. That would be Feb. 23.

Legislators should have asked the Republican National Committee first. It warned North Carolina to back off or face a penalty: Most of its convention delegates would not be counted.

So the legislature has picked a fallback date of March 15. But that could cost nearly $10 million to hold a separate primary. The expense is mostly carried by the counties. So now legislators are considering moving up the state and local primaries from May 3 to March 15. There would be no need to pay for a separate primary.

What’s the problem with that? North Carolina has never held state and local primaries so early. Such an early primary would put challengers at a big disadvantage. They need time to raise money, create an organization and meet voters. But it’s just fine for incumbents, who are almost always better known and better funded.

Legislators may think they’ve found a clever solution to a problem by combining primaries on March 15, especially since doing so would give them a political edge over potential challengers. But they’re creating unfair problems for anyone who might want to run against them.