Local Politics

N.C. Primary Could Be Key to Democratic Nomination

Posted February 6, 2008 12:15 p.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2008 7:24 p.m. EST

— North Carolina's presidential primary is so late in the nominating process that for years, the state has been an afterthought to candidates.

Again this year, 45 states will have held their primaries or caucuses by the time North Carolina voters go to the polls on May 6. But this time, with a tight race between U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic nomination, the state could become a critical, final battleground before the national convention.

"For the first time in recent memory, there really is a chance that North Carolina could matter," said Rob Christensen, a political columnist for The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh.

The last time North Carolina's presidential primary had an impact was in 1988, when the state participated in the first "Super Tuesday."

"We (could) actually have the Obama (and) Clinton campaigns in North Carolina, (which) means North Carolina voters get to see them up close and personal," Christensen said. "We could see TV ads, could have some forums."

The scenario could develop if the two candidates continue to split the delegates in primaries scheduled over the next three months.

Next Tuesday, Virginia, Maryland the District of Columbia have more than 200 delegates up for grabs. Then, 444 are on the table when Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island vote in the first week of March. Pennsylvania votes in late April, with 188 delegates at stake.

According to CBS News, Clinton has 1,006 delegates and Obama has 935. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 2,025 delegates. The party has moved away from winner-take-all primaries, however, so it is unlikely either candidate will get anywhere near all the delegates chosen between now and the North Carolina balloting.

"If it's still down to the wire at that point, it's going be an exciting time for everybody," said Jerry Meek, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Because the state didn't try to push its primary up in the calendar, the Democratic National Committee rewarded North Carolina with a 25 percent increase in delegates.

"We'll have a much bigger say than our population would otherwise suggest," Meek said.

The Republican Party has more winner-takes-all formats in its state primaries, which means a nomination will likely be wrapped up before the North Carolina primary.

But state GOP leaders said their time will come.

"With us being the 10th-largest state in the nation, we will definitely be a priority in November," said Chris McClure, chief of staff for the North Carolina Republican Party.