Tuesday, November 24, 2009

GOP keeps primaries open to unaffiliated voters

State Republican leaders wisely came to their senses over the weekend and short-circuited a plan to bar unaffiliated voters from participating in Republican primaries. My colleague Rob Christensen noted in Dome that the GOP Executive Committee rejected the proposal to narrow the Republican primary only to registered Republicans. He reported that Republican legislative caucus leaders wrote the committee that "For a Republican candidate to win an election in North Carolina, the candidate must build a coalition with unaffiliated voters. Barring unaffiliated voters from participating in Republican primaries will make building that coalition more difficult."

Polls have shown, he added, that most unaffiliated voters regard themselves as either conservative (38 percent) or moderate (37 percent) meaning they identify with ideological trains of thought but don't register in either party.

The plan to bar unaffiliated voters was pursued by some who want to make sure the Republican Party represents only true conservatives and not the kinds of moderate Republicanism that strongly conservative leaders want to root out of the party. That kind of thought led to the party's recent loss of a seat in New York, when conservatives purified a congressional race by running off one Republican candidate, only to see Democrats win the seat.

This move was baffling to me. I always thought Republicans in this state were much smarter than the Democrats when they first agreed to allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in the Republican primary. Democrats didn't do that for a while. I realized the Republicans were getting unaffiliated votes used to the idea of casting votes for Republicans -- an idea that at the time was still new to a lot of voters in North Carolina who had not voted Republican in previous elections. In time, Democrats also allowed unaffiliated voters to announce at polls on primary day which primary they wanted to vote in. Based on voter registration, after all, the unaffiliated category is where a lot of the voter registration growth has been.

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