News: CJ Exclusives

Rucho: RNC Should Not Punish N.C. For February Primary

Senator says 'first four' states will continue to hold earliest delegate selections

State Sen. Bob Rucho is still hoping North Carolina can have its presidential preference primary just days after South Carolina, giving the state a bigger say in determining the eventual 2016 nominees.

“We’re still very interested in making sure that the people of North Carolina have a choice,” said Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

In 2013, the General Assembly’s broad election law bill included a provision that would separate North Carolina’s presidential preference primary from other statewide and local primaries traditionally held in May. The law set the presidential primary on the Tuesday following South Carolina’s presidential primary.

That would place the North Carolina primary on either Feb. 16 or Feb. 23, depending on the movement of other primary dates that are not yet solidified. However, the Republican National Committee says it will penalize states that change their primaries to occur earlier than March 1. The RNC wants to ensure that the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina caucuses and primaries take place before those in other states.

The RNC could penalize North Carolina by slicing the states delegate total from 72 to 12 if it runs askew of the primary schedule.

On Wednesday, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, filed a bill that would move the state’s presidential primary to March 8, thus averting the anticipated penalty.

But Rucho said he doesn’t think the move is necessary, since the current law would not interrupt the order of state presidential primaries and caucuses.

“We never purposefully interfered with the rotation that they had — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina,” Rucho said. He said the RNC’s choice of March 1 as the earliest date that states outside the “first four” could hold primaries without penalty was “arbitrary.”

Rucho said he hopes he and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, can the primary date with RNC members and persuade them to drop any threatened penalties.

“To disenfranchise our voters and take away the momentum would be less than beneficial,” Rucho said.

Last week, Claude Pope, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, said he didn’t think the RNC would grant North Carolina a waiver from the rule.

“If it were a Democratic-controlled legislature that set the date that was out of compliance with a Republican rule – that’s the only time the RNC would consider an appeal of a rule,” Pope said. “They’re not going to change the rules for us.”

The separation of the presidential preference primary from other state and local primaries would add an additional cost for local elections boards. Based on the cost of the second primary in 2012, local boards estimate the cost for the separate presidential primary to be $2.9 million.

Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, also noted that the 2013 election law includes requirements that local elections boards offer the same access to early voting in the 2016 presidential primary as they did in 2012. Rucho said it was the General Assembly’s intent for local election boards to do just that.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.