By Marti Anne Maquire
RALEIGH, NC (Reuters) - North Carolina’s House of Representatives voted Wednesday to push its presidential primary back on the 2016 calendar, but the state still faces steep penalties from the Republican Party unless its Senate also agrees on the later date.
The effort is an about-face from 2013 when North Carolina moved its presidential primary from May to the first Tuesday after primaries are held in South Carolina, traditionally the fourth state to choose its presidential candidates.
That move was meant to increase North Carolina’s influence in presidential elections by holding its primary in February starting next year, but it also violated the policies of both national political parties.
Based on rules it passed in 2012, the national Republican Party will strip North Carolina of all but 12 of 55 delegates if it holds its primary before March 1. The Democratic Party also forbids early primaries, though its penalties are less severe.
“We are confident that all states will be in compliance,” said Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “The loss of influence is just too great if they don’t comply.”
The bill that passed 111-1 Wednesday evening would avoid these penalties by moving the presidential primary to the first Tuesday in March. Other primaries would still be held in May.
“This makes sure that people back home who want to be involved and participate in the nominating process are able to do so,” Republican David Lewis, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the committee that passed it early Wednesday before the full house passed it later in the day. “This still puts us early enough to be relevant in the process.”
Both chambers of the North Carolina legislature are led by Republicans, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Senator Bob Rucho, the influential Republican who championed the earlier primary, has not yet expressed support for the change.
“We’re evaluating and looking at what’s in the best interest of our state,” Rucho told the Charlotte Observer Wednesday.
Republican Governor Pat McCrory would also have to sign the bill.
The strict penalties arose after large states such as Florida and Michigan defied the national parties to hold early primaries, said Joshua Putnam, a political science professor at Appalachian State University who follows primary dates nationally.
Putnam said North Carolina is the only state currently planning an early primary.
“It’s been an effective deterrent,” Putnam said. “If your intent is to have more influence, losing 80 percent of your delegates kind of prevents that from happening.”
(Reporting By Marti Anne Maquire in Raleigh, N.C.; Editing by Carey Gillam and Michael Perry)