Friday, January 28, 2011

2012 Presidential Primaries: North Carolina

Earlier this week the North Carolina General Assembly convened for the first time under Republican control since the Reconstruction era. This actually has some implications for the timing of the Tarheel state's presidential primary in 2012. In the Senate at least there has been Republican support for a February presidential primary for the last three sessions. Those bills (S18 -- 2005-06, S168 -- 2007-08, S150 -- 2009-10) were all proposed by Republican senator, Andrew Brock, and supported by a group of Republicans who signed on as cosponsors. However, during each of those sessions, the bills inevitable got stuck in the Judiciary (I) Committee then controlled by Democrats.

If the past three sessions are any indication, Brock and others may once again propose legislation to try and shift the presidential primary to an earlier date. But the change in control of the General Assembly doesn't make this a done deal. Republicans do control the committees now, but that's only part of the story. First, the Senate has yet to finalize the committees and committee assignments under the new regime. Secondly, there is no indication that there will be any support for such a measure in the lower chamber.

Finally even though North Carolina has some past experience with shifting the date on which its presidential primary is held (1976 and 1988), the state has consistently held that contest concurrently with the primaries for state and local offices (as a matter of convenience). The past two experiences with frontloading have been temporary actions that created and funded a separate presidential primary that was later canceled and moved back to coincide with the other primaries on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May. There is emerging some evidence to suggest that, given budgetary constraints at the state level, states are less willing to fund a separate primary. California, New Jersey and Oklahoma already have proposed legislation on the table to pull separate presidential primaries back in line with the primaries for state and local offices or to defund the presidential primary altogether. Even with Republicans now in control of the North Carolina General Assembly, there may be some budgetary resistance to creating and funding a separate presidential primary.

And while there may yet be a bill proposed, there is still a question of when the new primary would be scheduled. Brock's past bills have called for a February primary, which at the times the were introduced were in compliance with the national party rules. But it is yet to be seen if there is a willingness to just move up to the earliest allowed date (March 6, 2012 in this case) or to go against both national parties' sets of delegate selection rules and go in February some time (as the proposed bill in Texas would do). This is all speculative, but much would likely depend on what the 18 currently non-compliant states do and how quickly they do it relative to when the General Assembly in North Carolina wraps up its business over the summer.

North Carolina, then, potentially represents a rare case during this cycle of a state that may move forward. The focus remains on those states that have to move back to be in compliance with the DNC's and RNC's rules. That new mandate for moving back is what makes this 2012 cycle and the formation of its presidential primary calendar unique compared to the race to the front that has marked recent cycles.

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