This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch. 

Another potential change in the date of North Carolina’s 2022 primary election, this one initiated by the Republican majorities in the state legislature, is reverberating through races statewide, including the battle for the GOP nomination in the race for Richard Burr’s soon-to-be open U.S. Senate seat.

On Wednesday, General Assembly leaders fast-tracked a bill through both chambers that shifts the current May 17 primary date to June 7.

Bill sponsors said the move was necessary to give the legislature ample time to redraw districts should the state Supreme Court next month strike down legislative and congressional maps recently approved by the General Assembly. Democrats opposed the move. saying it was premature given that the issue is now before state Supreme Court.

The May date, along with a change in filing periods, was established in an earlier court ruling that suspended filing last December for the March 8 primary.

Both changes to the calendar have affected the U.S. Senate primaries, particularly the already contentious Republican primary, which appears to be narrowing into a proxy fight between different factions of the party.

Backed by the Club for Growth and endorsed by former President Donald Trump, Rep. Ted Budd has continued to hammer away at former Governor Pat McCrory.

Civitas poll of GOP voters released last week by the conservative John Locke Foundation showed that Budd’s strategy and a major ad push by Club for Growth has whittled away at McCrory’s lead. Internal polling earlier this year found McCrory above the 30 percent threshold he needs to avoid a runoff.

The new Civitas poll found that in a head-to-head contest with McCrory, Budd has pulled slightly ahead with 34.2 percent of respondents saying they would definitely or probably vote for him and 33.2 percent definitely or probably voting for McCrory.

The poll also showed the weight of the former president’s influence on primary voters with half saying Trump’s endorsement would sway their choice in the race.

After the poll results were announced, the Budd campaign released a memo saying the poll confirmed suspicions that McCrory’s support was “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

But a head-to-head match-up between McCrory and Budd relies on the field of GOP candidates narrowing. That appeared likely in the original filing season in December when former congressman Mark Walker was widely expected to drop his Senate bid and run for a U.S. House seat.

For now however, with the primary delayed and potentially delayed again, Walker, a Baptist minister who has long enjoyed strong support from evangelical voters and who also sought Trump’s endorsement, is staying in the race.

According to the Civitas poll, a three-way race between Walker, Budd, and McCrory would favor McCrory with 24.2 percent to Budd’s 18.8 percent and Walker’s 6.6 percent. A fourth candidate, Majorie Eastman of Cary, draws just under 1 percent.

Walker told Greensboro television station WFMY last week that he was still weighing whether to run for Senate or House, and felt that he owed voters a decision on the matter this month. His twitter bio still says he’s a Senate candidate and still includes a pinned tweet from the day he announced. There were reports circulating this afternoon that he will hold a press conference next Monday, January 24.

Eastman said she also is staying in, telling the NC Insider Wednesday that she would report raising close to $423,000 in the fourth quarter of 2021. Restore Common Sense Inc., a political action committee set up late last year, has spent $1,212,226 on billboards, radio, digital and social media advertising in support of Eastman, an author and army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to FEC reports, major GOP donor Fred Eshelman, is listed as the committee’s treasurer.

Either way, all candidates have some time to make their decision. Filing season would not open under the new legislation until March 24.

Though Gov. Roy Cooper has yet to announce whether he will veto the legislation, a statement issued by his spokesperson Jordan Monaghan indicated little enthusiasm for the proposal. “The three-judge panel during the trial has already found as fact that the maps drawn by Republicans are intentional, partisan gerrymanders. The Supreme Court will determine the constitutionality of these districts and legislators should avoid additional attempts to undermine the voting process,” Monaghan said.

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