This state could give the GOP big headaches in 2016

Published 9:47 PM EST, Tue February 24, 2015

Story highlights

Some GOP legislators vow to defend a law that places North Carolina's primary fifth-in-line

Political professor: "North Carolina is the biggest threat to the calendar now"

If North Carolina holds its primary before March 1, the RNC says it will chop its delegation down to 12

(CNN) —  

North Carolina might be going rogue.

The state is on a collision course with the Republican National Committee over when to hold its presidential primary next year.

National Republicans – intent on fashioning an orderly nominating process after several chaotic cycles – are threatening trigger-happy primary and caucus states with drastic penalties if they attempt to leapfrog the voting line and disrupt the carefully plotted primary calendar.

But a handful of North Carolina GOP legislators are vowing to defend a recently passed law that places their state’s primary fifth-in-line, in late February 2016, right after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina raise the curtain on the Republican and Democratic nomination battles.

“North Carolina is the biggest threat to the calendar now because there is an uncertainty around the primary here that does not exist elsewhere,” said Josh Putnam, a professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, who runs the web site “Frontloading HQ,” which covers the presidential primary system in obsessive detail.

’We deserve a voice’

Backers of the early Tar Heel primary sound a lot like the mischief-making Tallahassee lawmakers who pushed for Florida to hold an earlier-than-expected primary in 2008 and 2012, despite penalties from the national party committees that stripped them of delegates to the national convention.

“We deserve a voice as much as any other state,” said Bob Rucho, a conservative state senator from the Charlotte area who is championing the new primary date. “Any state that chooses to should be able to have their citizens be involved in the process of choosing the candidate. The other system has made selections from Dole to McCain to Romney, and each of them did not succeed in winning the presidency. We just feel there is a better way of doing this.”

If North Carolina goes early and holds its primary before March 1, the RNC would chop its sizeable delegation of 72 delegates down to 12, making the state a dubious prize for candidates on hunt for convention delegates.

Rucho said the penalty would “disenfranchise Republican voters.”

“We have won a governorship, two U.S. senators and the General Assembly,” he said. “North Carolina has been one of the leading states in strengthening the Republican Party, and we feel that any sanctions against us would be against a group of people who have made great strides in helping the Republican Party in the Southeast and in the rest of the country.”

The law in question, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in late 2013 as part of an election overhaul package that included strict new voter identification regulations, dictates that the North Carolina primary, for both Democrats and Republicans, must occur on the Tuesday after South Carolina’s 2016 presidential primary.