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...Politics & Current Events In N.C.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Primary delayed 

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As was widely anticipated, yesterday the State Board of Elections postponed the primaries scheduled for May until July 20. The reason was that the Justice Department has not given pre-clearance for the new state legislative districts as required under the voting rights act. Additionally, pending court challenges by Republicans to the new district maps must be resolved before a primary can be permanently scheduled. For the moment they are set for July. But in 2002, the primaries were delayed until September, and it seems possible for a recurrence of that scenario this year. This has important implications for races from the top of the ballot to the bottom. I am only going to address the races at the top of the ticket for the moment.

Presidential: The national parties require states to choose their delegates to the national convention well before July. No one in the cash-strapped government wants to foot the bill for a separate primary, so delegates will have to be chosen by another method. The Democrats have already drawn up a contingency plan which you can view here (PDF). A quasi-caucus will be held in mid-April. Some critics have claimed that the plan favors Sen. Edwards. The Republican Party has only just begun to draw up their new plan. In any case, the outcome of the North Carolina primary will probably be irrelevant since the nomination will most likely be wrapped up by mid-March for both parties.

Gubernatorial: Gov. Easley, is probably the biggest winner in this situation. The Democratic Easley is running for re-election and his war chest far exceeds any of his Republican opponents. Meanwhile there are at least five legitimate big-named Republicans on the ballot. Some of them are already broadcasting TV spots. The summer schedule will probably mean that the turnout will be skewed towards the hard-core loyalists of the Republican Party, and mean that the winner will be more Conservative than even North Carolina can handle and out of money. In addition, under the current schedule there is still time for a run-off in the Republican primary. A run-off would take place in August. With this many people in the field, it is possible that the Republican nominee for Governor will only have eight to ten weeks to come out of a bitter primary and take on Easley.

U.S. Senate: The U.S. Senate race is almost certainly going to be between the 2002 Democratic nominee, Erskine Bowles, and U.S. Rep. Richard Burr. The changed primary date probably will not affect this race much unless it tempts former NC House Speaker Dan Blue into challenging Bowles for the nomination again. Barring this possibility, the only consequence will probably be diminished press coverage of the race until the Republican Gubernatorial primary is decided. That should slightly favor Mr. Bowles who has better name recognition in the state.

Congress: Many of these races need to be examined in-depth (and a Republican would probably do better since this decision will mostly affect the Republican primaries). But here are a few thoughts. In the 5th district (held by Richard Burr who is running for Sen. Edwards seat), the ad war is already going and the money is flowing. However, this seat will almost certainly be retained by a Republican. But the longer that this bitter primary drags on, the more likely Dr. Jim Harrell (the most legitimate Democratic candidate) will have to look good to moderate Republicans in the district. In the case of a run-off in this race (which is highly possible) the seat could even become competitive. The 10th Congressional district (held by Cass Ballanger who is retiring) is even more likely to end up in Republican hands despite a very full Republican primary. In the other congressional districts there are not many important primaries, so this decision will have little effect on the eventual outcome.

I hope to have more time to examine this decision's affect on the other big races in the state and the closely divided NC legislature.

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