The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:
North Carolina’s Republican legislature has picked another unnecessary fight. Many of its actions have prompted lawsuits that have cost millions of dollars to contest.
Now it’s engaged in a battle with the Republican National Committee over the date of the state’s 2016 presidential primary.
The RNC has tried to enforce an orderly calendar of primaries and caucuses. North Carolina Republicans want to move up their primary. Way up.
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Traditionally it’s been held in May, at the same time as primary elections for state offices. That avoids the expense of holding a separate election.
Republicans decided to break with tradition. A provision in the 2013 election reform bill says North Carolina will hold its presidential primary on the first Tuesday after South Carolina conducts its primary. Our neighbors to the south haven’t decided on that date yet, but it probably will be in mid-February.
The RNC objects. If North Carolina holds a primary before March 1, it says, it will exact a stiff penalty, stripping the state of 60 of the 72 delegates it otherwise would have at the Republican National Convention.
Legislators want North Carolina to play a greater role in choosing the GOP presidential nominee. Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), in an interview with CNN, cited the examples of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney to make the point that the process in place hasn’t always worked well for his party.
Yet, the front-loading of the primary process favors candidates who organize and raise money early or start out with the greatest name recognition – as Dole, McCain and Romney did. Will it be better if all states move their primaries to February and the nomination is secured by then? On the other hand, in a more orderly process, a May primary could have a decisive impact in a race that had not yet been settled.
Rucho makes the logical argument that North Carolina is a large state that has done well for Republicans in recent years. The RNC penalty would largely disenfranchise the state’s Republican voters by removing so many delegates, he said. Yet, that’s a reason to yield to the national party. The RNC has made its position clear for a long time. North Carolina Republicans will deserve the consequences for breaking the rules.
The expense shouldn’t be overlooked, either. The cost of party primary elections isn’t paid by the parties. Rather, the public would pay for an extra statewide primary election in 2016. The price could be $3 million. Legislators justified the move by saying the state would benefit from spending by the national campaigns and media. Not likely if candidates stay away because only 12 delegates would be at stake.
Three Republicans, including Bert Jones of Reidsville, filed a bill last week that would move the presidential primary to March. That would satisfy the RNC but still leave the extra expense.
Legislators should stop trying to jump in line and return to the sensible practice of holding a single primary in May.
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