North Carolina could play big role in GOP race, Sen. Burr says

WASHINGTON — While Republican presidential contenders traipse daily across Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, some North Carolinians are feeling left out.

The first GOP primary is only three weeks away, but North Carolinians won't get to weigh in on the nominee until four months later. Voters in 38 states and Washington, D.C. will have their say before then. The calendar raises the question - again - whether North Carolina should join the states moving their primaries earlier.

Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., says North Carolina's May 8 primary is well-positioned and this year's race for the Republican presidential nominee may prove why.

With no clear favorite yet to emerge, Burr says the battle for a definitive frontrunner could continue well into the spring primary season.

"Does North Carolina then become relevant?" Burr said Tuesday. "Yes, it does."

He said some states that moved up their primaries in hopes of maximizing influence on the elections may be thinking "oops."

Florida and Nevada drew criticism when they announced they would challenge Iowa and New Hampshire's hold on hosting the first caucus and primary. At least half-dozen states threatened to move up their primaries as well.

But in North Carolina, at least in the past two decades, Republican presidential primaries have come too late to make a difference, according to Josh Putnam, a Davidson College professor.

Putnam, who authors the blog, FrontloadingHQ, says it's too early to evaluate North Carolina's role in the 2012 Republican race. But he found similarities to the 2008 Democratic race between then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Obama didn't win that race until the summer.

"It may draw out for awhile," he said of the GOP fight, which includes a Jan. 21 primary in South Carolina.

Other states have moved back their primaries citing cost factors. The California and New Jersey presidential primaries, which took place in February 2008, were moved back to June. And the state of Washington announced it would not hold its presidential primary, which will save the state an estimated $10 million.

Burr predicts that North Carolinians will be essentially be voting for their choice to be the next president. He is confident the Republican nominee will go on to win the state in November. Burr has yet to endorse any of the GOP candidates.

And while his name has been mentioned as a candidate for vice president, Burr said such a scenario is "highly unlikely." The Republican nominee, he says, will likely want a vice presidential nominee from a state that's more competitive, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida.

"I don't think North Carolina is a question," he said. "I don't think it will be close."