@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Lawmakers to set NC presidential primary date

Posted July 17, 2015 10:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 19, 2015 9:58 a.m. EDT

Voting in N.C., voting generic

— North Carolina will hold its 2016 presidential primary on March 15 under a deal struck by House and Senate leaders late Friday.

The tentative measure, which guts the material dealing with paper ballots originally in House Bill 373 and replaces it with the presidential primary language, is scheduled to go before the Senate Redistricting Committee on Monday. It was distributed to committee members just before 8 p.m. Friday.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, confirmed the measure reflected an agreement between House and Senate leaders.

Although the bill calls for North Carolina's primaries to be a winner-take-all affair for both parties, with the top vote-getter in either party winning all of the state's delegates, Republicans and Democrats could still opt out if there is a conflict with national rules. Democrats have already chosen to award delegates proportionally, based on the number of votes a primary candidate gets, and would likely stick with that plan.

The March 15 date will put North Carolina's on the same date as Florida, Missouri, Illinois and Ohio, about a third of the way through the still-evolving primary calendar. That is the first date on the calendar that Republican Party rules allow states to opt for winner-take-all status.

For more than two decades, North Carolina's primary has been in May, along with primaries for other offices, typically well after the national parties have settled their presidential nominees. The most significant exception was the 2008 Democratic battle between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

In 2013, lawmakers voted to split the presidential primary from other nominating contests, moving it earlier in the year. The idea was to make North Carolina a bigger player on the national stage and draw attention – and dollars – from national campaigns. That notion appears to have worked, with such GOP luminaries as Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Donald Trump making their way to the state already.

Under the law that's now in effect, North Carolina would hold is presidential primaries in February, jumping ahead of states which the national Democratic and Republican parties have officially sanctioned to hold early-in-the-year primaries. The Republican National Committee threatened to take away all but 12 of North Carolina's 72 delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention unless the state moved the date to after March 1.

Earlier this year, House members had proposed moving North Carolina's 2016 primary from Feb. 23 to March 8. But senators resisted the move.

"I think North Carolina deserves to be up front," Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, told WRAL News in March.

Senators argued that North Carolina was too big a state for the national parties to disenfranchise. But party leaders, including former Chairman Claude Pope, had argued for moving the date back to avoid unnecessary conflict.

The newly circulated version of House Bill 373 clears away conflict with national party rules and continues North Carolina's status as a tempting early primary destination.