02/11/08 — Will North Carolina's votes matter?

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Will North Carolina's votes matter?

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 11, 2008 1:46 PM

With Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton running neck and neck after Super Tuesday and this weekend's four contests, the electoral battlegrounds have now shifted to the so-called Potomac Primaries in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

But, with more than a dozen races still to go before North Carolina's May 6 primary -- and with John McCain running well ahead of Mike Huckabee for the Republican nomination -- there is some question as to whether those contests will still be competitive by the time they reach the Tar Heel State.

So far, 32 states have allocated delegates for the two parties, and by the time North Carolinians vote, not only will the triumvirate of Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia have cast their ballots, but Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Vermont, Mississippi and Pennsylvania also will have all had their say.

It's a schedule that some local political leaders feel isn't really fair to North Carolina residents, who are among the last in the nation to vote.

"I think you ought to have all the primaries basically at one time," said Republican county Commissioner Efton Sager. "By having early primaries like we do, when it gets down to our state we don't really have a choice, and nobody has motivation to go vote if it's already been decided."

After winning two of Saturday's three contests, though, Huckabee has pledged to remain in the race -- if for no other reason than to give states like North Carolina a choice until someone wins the 1,191 delegates needed for the Republican nomination.

North Carolina's Democratic voters, however, may be facing a truly competitive race as Obama continues to cut into Mrs. Clinton's slight delegate lead. For them, 2,025 delegates are needed for the nomination.

"It kind of looks like North Carolina could be a player. (If the votes continue to be split) North Carolina could really decide who's the nominee," Democratic county Commissioner John Bell said.

But he, too, believes the current system isn't really the best.

"As it is right now, you can have just a few states deciding the outcome and somebody else choosing who you have as a nominee. I think there should be one primary system all over the country just like the general election so that everybody has a say," he said.

Still, Democratic county Commissioner J.D. Evans noted, one thing the late primary does allow, is more time for people to hear from the most viable candidates.

"I think North Carolina ought to have a say in who the candidate will be and that's maybe something we ought to take a look at. But I also think we've got it easier. We have more of a chance to learn more about them so we can make better decisions," he said. "Some people jump on bandwagons too quickly and they run out of gas. Then you've got to go jump on another."

Besides, added community activist and unaffiliated voter Lonnie Casey, regardless of the date of the primary, "You can still vote for who you want."

In North Carolina, while the parties decide how to proportionally allocate their delegates -- 134 for Democrats, 69 for Republicans -- the primary date itself is set by state law, and since 1992, the general statutes have said that primaries must be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in May.

To change that would require action by the General Assembly.

"Back last year we had some conversations about that," said state Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne.

State Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, even introduced legislation that would have moved the presidential primaries to Feb. 5.

But, Pate added, "That bill didn't go anywhere."

The opposition, he explained, was concerned about the cost of holding two separate spring primaries -- one for the president and one for everybody else.