Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Purity Tests? Not for the NC GOP

There has been a lot of talk about true conservatives (think NY-23) and purity tests within the Republican Party lately. But what's been lost in all of this is a rare -- at least in terms of getting news attention -- instance of pragmatism. Late last week, the North Carolina Republican Party considered a proposal to discontinue allowing independents to vote in the party's primaries.
"Unfortunately there are times when independents are swaying elections to a candidate that is not as conservative as we would like," said Onslow County GOP Chairman Patrick Lamb, identifying moderates as people like John McCain last year and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

"We are not attempting to eliminate independents from the process. We absolutely need them," said Bob Pruett of Beaufort, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District committee, who supports the closed primary idea. "But we want to make sure that we have conservative candidates elected in our primaries."
Compare that sentiment to the line of argument that ultimately prevailed:
"History shows us that the passage of this resolution would not bode well for the goal of a Republican victory in 2010," state party Chairman Tom Fetzer wrote in an e-mail to executive committee members.

"All of us know at least one Conservative Republican – and probably many more – that have switched to Unaffiliated out of frustration with the national or state Republican Party," the three lawmakers [Phil Berger, Paul Stam and Eddie Goodall] wrote. "Are we sending these Conservatives the right message and encouraging them to return to the Republican Party by telling them they cannot participate in a Republican Primary and can only participate in the Democratic Primary?"
Obviously, there was a purist element within the NC GOP pushing this resolution, but they were voted down in the party's executive committee meeting this past weekend. Why? FHQ suspects that state party Chairman Tom Fenty is absolutely correct: with the state legislative elections coming up in 2010, North Carolina Republicans have an opportunity to win both chambers. Limiting the potential base, though, could have affected the calculus for attaining that goal (especially with unaffiliateds in the state growing by leaps and bounds).

Now, why, you may ask, is this any different than what FHQ discussed recently in terms of the Idaho Republican Party's efforts to end the Gem state's open primary -- for much the same reason? Why, indeed? Again, it is up to the state to decide the extent to which its primaries are opened or closed to independent and unaffiliated voters. The state of Idaho, as we highlighted, has allowed not only independents but partisans of the opposite party to participate in primary elections for both major parties over the last nearly four decades. But in North Carolina, the system is slightly different. Technically, the Tarheel state's primaries are closed to independents, but a change to the law in allowed the state parties to decide whether they would invite independents to participate in their primary elections. The North Carolina Republican Party began allowing independents in in 1988 with the Democrats in the state following suit in 1996.

And this not really an issue for the Republican Party in North Carolina to take lightly. The conventional wisdom after the 2008 presidential election was that Obama's organizational efforts during the primaries in North Carolina helped push the president over the top in the Tarheel state in November; turning the state blue for the first time since 1976. Getting independents to vote for you in the primary has the potential to go a long way for a candidate when the general election rolls around. The dynamic, though, has the potential to be different in a midterm election than in a presidential election.

Still, in the battle of pragmatism versus purism with in the Republican Party, pragmatism won out for once.

Recent Posts:
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Des Moines Register Poll: 2012 GOP Candidate Favorability

Public Policy Polling: November 2009 Presidential Trial Heats In Depth

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