Thursday, June 4, 2015

Makings of a Deal Emerge in North Carolina Presidential Primary Impasse

The showdown between the North Carolina House and Senate over the positioning of the Tar Heel state presidential primary in 2016 may be in its waning days. According to North Carolina Republican Party Chair Claude Pope (via Jones and Blount), a deal has been reached between the state party and leaders in the General Assembly to move the North Carolina presidential primary back into compliance with national party delegate selection rules.

The details of the deal were not immediately made clear -- specifically the date of the contest -- but news that defenders of the tethered position in the Senate are open to a change is significant. It was on the Republican-controlled Senate side that the amended version of an omnibus elections bill added the presidential primary date change in 2013. With the end of the 2013 session bearing down on them, and with it pressure to get the elections bill through before that adjournment, the Republican-controlled House went along with the date change.

But that decision has put the North Carolina Republican Party in a vulnerable position ever since. A North Carolina presidential primary scheduled on the Tuesday after a February South Carolina primary would put Tar Heel state Republicans in violation of the Republican National Committee rules; most importantly the so-called super penalty that would reduce the size of a state delegation (with 30 or more delegates) to just 12 delegates. In the case of the North Carolina Republican delegation to the 2016 Republican convention in Cleveland that would mean a more than 80% reduction.

That super penalty has been effective during the 2013-15 period in bringing formerly rogue states like Arizona, Florida and Michigan back into compliance with the national party rules. North Carolina, however, has held out to this point.

That looks to be changing though. The House has already passed legislation to shift the North Carolina presidential primary to March 8. In the lead up to that bill's introduction, there was a push, led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest (R), to move the primary back to March 22 to facilitate a winner-take-all primary. Whether that latter option is still on the table remains to be determined. Given that state Senate proponents have valued the earliness of the tethered primary, it would seem that March 8 would likely be the latest date on which they would schedule the primary. But joining the SEC primary on March 1 -- the earliest, compliant date under the rules -- may still be an option as well.

The prognosis for any deal passing the General Assembly would have to be tentatively rated as pretty good. The House bill passed nearly unanimously and as long as the deal sets the primary date on or after March 1, it will likely have the votes of Democrats. The current law has them out of compliance with the Democratic National Committee which places some urgency behind action on their parts as well. Democrats may be in the minority in the North Carolina General Assembly and have options limited to those proposed by Republicans, but they still also have to act to bring about a change.

Thanks to Jonathan Kappler for the heads up on the Jones and Blount story.

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