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Redistricting Debate May Benefit Incumbents In 2004 Elections

Posted December 30, 2003

— There is increasing concern that a fight over legislative districts could delay or even eliminate your right to vote in next year's primary. On Monday, a Franklin County judge cleared the way for a three-judge panel to settle the district dispute. With appeals possible, the politcal process could get complicated.

If North Carolina voters do not get a primary vote next May, analysts believe Gov. Mike Easley and other officeholders will get an immediate political boost.

"It's an incumbent protection plan. It severely hampers challengers. It makes them less effective," said Republican strategist Marc Rotterman said.

Rotterman said the longer GOP gubernatorial candidates like Richard Vinroot, Patrick Ballentine and Bill Cobey battle in the trenches, the tougher it gets to build party unity.

"It's harder to plan. It's harder to raise money," he said.

With modern campaigns, television time is critical to name recognition, but if the primary is delayed, that can really complicate a candidate's strategy on when they get the message out.

"What happens is you're going to get so many people after September on television. The message gets lost," Rotterman said.

Some pundits feel the late primary in 2002 hurt Democrat Erskine Bowles in his Senate race against the better known Elizabeth Dole. If Bowles takes the nomination again, he faces a well-funded Richard Burr.

"You have to say that Burr, because of Bush, is the frontrunner," Rotterman said.

Rotterman said primary delays and redistricting struggles come with the state's political landscape, but ultimately voters get short-changed.

"I wish to God that Jones Street could get their act together, so people would have a chance to understand who their representatives are and who they're voting for," he said.

Rotterman said a primary delay would probably result in low voter turnout. The courts still have time to iron out redistricting in time to salvage the May primary, but many political leaders are expecting a delay.

It would not be the first primary held up because of fights over redistricting. Since 1976, four primaries have been affected. The longest delay was 2002 when voters did not get to the polls until September.

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