- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina legislative leaders have tentatively settled on shifting the state’s 2016 presidential primary to mid-March, key lawmakers said Saturday in a move that would avoid potential massive state delegate losses to both Democratic and Republican nominating conventions.

House and Senate Republicans confirmed the agreement in principle to move the primary to March 15, pushing it back from a current late February date agreed upon in a 2013 law. Florida, Ohio and Missouri are among states that have already scheduled their primaries on that date.

The Republican National Committee has threatened North Carolina’s GOP with losing more than 80 percent of its nominating delegates to next summer’s convention if the primary stayed in February. State Democrats also would stand to lose half of their delegates under their rules.

The reductions would have largely defeated the earlier purpose of Republican lawmakers to give North Carolina - the nation’s ninth largest state - more early clout in choosing presidential nominees. The North Carolina presidential primary has been held in recent cycles in early May, when primaries for state offices are held.

Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, a Republican National Committee member, got a bill passed last spring that would have moved the primary to March 8.

Lewis said Saturday there was an agreement on March 15 but that House Republicans would have to review the details of new bill, which is slated for debate in a Senate committee on Monday. Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, a committee leader and longtime proponent of an earlier date, said the new date will give North Carolina significant influence.

“North Carolina will have a greater chance to pick the presidential nominee,” Brock said, adding that issues important to North Carolina will be “brought to the forefront on a national stage.”

Lewis and Brock said the proposal would award the primary winners all the state’s delegates, rather than also distributing them to other candidates who also performed well and as previously occurred in North Carolina. RNC rules allow winner-take-all primaries after March 14. The proposal appears to provide an exception for Democrats to stick with the proportional distribution of delegates to candidates if the party chooses.

South Carolina Republicans had complained about the late February date for North Carolina, since it would be held three days after South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary. They were worried it would siphon away television advertising and candidates away from their state to its bigger northern neighbor. South Carolina and a few other historically early primary states are granted party exemptions to choose nominees before March 1.

North Carolina is a likely general election battleground state. Barack Obama narrowly won North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes in 2008, but Mitt Romney edged Obama in 2012.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh first reported on the new legislation.

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