- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina officially launched its 2016 campaign season Tuesday as candidates filed to appear on ballots in March, moving the state’s traditional primaries up by two months to have more influence on the presidential nominations.

Elections offices began accepting candidacy notices at noon, the start of a three-week scramble. More than 600 candidates had shown up by the end of the day, according to the State Board of Elections, which estimates that 2,500 people could file for hundreds of positions statewide before the Dec. 21 deadline.

The 2016 ballot includes a threesome that happens only once every 12 years in the state: elections for president, U.S. Senate and governor, which should generate tens of millions of dollars in combined campaign spending. Also up for votes are North Carolina’s U.S. House seats, state legislative seats, statewide elective offices, judicial and county positions, and a referendum on a $2 billion bond to finance the construction of college and government buildings.

The legislature decided in 2013 to move the 2016 presidential primary from its traditional May primary date to give North Carolina a greater say-so in choosing nominees. Legislative Republicans then decided in September to hold all primaries on the same date, rather than suffer low turnouts during a separate non-presidential primary.

Having one March primary “means higher turnout clearly, and I think it means that campaigns are starting in earnest sooner than they would have otherwise,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

Barring a court intervention, the primary also will be the first time photo identification is required to vote in person, under a law approved mostly along party lines by the Republican-controlled legislature. Other changes already being implemented have reduced the number of early voting days, barred same-day registration during the early-voting period and prohibited counting ballots cast on Election Day in precincts that don’t match registration information. Several lawsuits argue that the changes are designed to suppress voting, especially among minority groups.

Some candidates said Tuesday they’re focused on what they can control.

“I’m just trying to roll with the punches,” said Deborah Ross, who hopes to win the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate and unseat Republican incumbent Richard Burr. “The bottom line is this: We have to run a strong positive, aggressive campaign and we’re going to do it under whatever rules are put in front of us.”

Four Council of State members - Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, schools Superintendent June Atkinson, State Auditor Beth Wood and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin - filed to seek re-election by mid-afternoon. Goodwin already faced a challenger in Mike Causey, a four-time Republican nominee who lost to Goodwin in 2012.

“I’m hoping the fifth time will be the charm,” Causey said.

Another narrow 2012 loser - Linda Coleman - filed in the first few minutes to run again for lieutenant governor. She lost by only 7,000 votes to Republican Dan Forest, who intends to seek re-election.

Former state Rep. Dale Folwell, who has served in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration as head of the state’s unemployment benefits office, filed to run for the Republican nomination for state treasurer. Current Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat, isn’t seeking re-election.

Folwell, who ran briefly for treasurer in 2008 and ran for lieutenant governor in 2012, has led the unemployment office as North Carolina got out from under more than $2.5 billion it owed the federal government to pay for benefits during the Great Recession.

First in line at the state board was Republican Secretary of State candidate A.J. Daoud of Pilot Mountain, who sat with his wife outside the office since Monday morning. He wants to unseat Democratic incumbent Elaine Marshall. Daoud’s 29-hour wait gave him a bit more attention for a down-ballot position.

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