A Cautious, But Needed Approach
The Maryland Republican Party is currently investigating opening their primaries to persons registered as unaffiliated voters. I have no clue what the outcome of the expected raging debates and the multiplicity of committee meetings will conclude, but I am sure, regardless of the decision, it will divide my beloved party once again.
In 2000 as a member of the Baltimore County Central Committee, I was part of the debate to open our primary to "independents." It was a popular idea that party leadership pushed; members on both sides of the issue lobbied for my vote at the convention. I bought into the idea that our party needed to expand its outreach to a new segment of voters and cast a favorable vote.
MDGOP did a limited mailing to their "new" friends, which was less than adequate and closer to junk mail. Thus the turnout by "independents" was less than stellar, the overall effort by MDGOP was minimal, and we virtually got what we paid for… poor results. I was disappointed on many levels.
Thirteen years later MDGOP is about to enter a similar debate. This time my perspective is different. I still favor opening the GOP primary; however, if there is no follow up, no outreach and no other changes under consideration within the Maryland Republican Party – do not repeat this segment of history. It would be embarrassing to make the same mistake twice.
That said, the movers and shakers of the party should proceed full steam ahead. Plans should be laid for a full-blown advertisement campaign, let everyone know we understand voter outreach. Education pieces need to go to all unaffiliated voters – multiple times – just as if the party was a candidate looking to win their votes. Last, but not least, the results need to be measured over the course of several elections before throwing up our hands proclaiming the great experiment as a failure.
From a candidate standpoint – what an opportunity! If GOP candidates are brought into the mix, to work with MDGOP on this targeted segment of the voting population, successes will spawn. There will be ample pre-General Election opportunity to highlight the vast difference between GOP candidates and the party of Obama/O'Malley. The timing is perfect to reach out to this disgruntled, unaffiliated populace. MDGOP needs to make a major investment, or we will be doomed to an eventual third-tier political party.
The 2014 Primary Election is in June. Those election results will tell all GOP candidates on a precinct-by-precinct basis where unaffiliated voters trudged to the polls. It will be another piece of the roadmap for GOP candidates as they race to win in the General Election. Do not be fooled by naysayers. The only voters – unaffiliated or not – who vote in a primary election, are those who are politically engaged, and they will vote the same way in the General Election. No liberal or progressive thinking unaffiliated voter will waste his or her time in a GOP primary.
MDGOP has a real opportunity to aggressively move the ball down the field. Our party is a constantly shrinking minority that needs to rethink its marketing and persona. An open primary is not the answer to the GOP's image problem – it is only one-step of the many that are needed to create an atmosphere for candidates to win in Maryland.
I hope the MDGOP can raise the money needed to do the job right this time. I hope the party has the passion and conviction to see the plan through over multiple elections. I hope this is only one of many revitalization steps, which must be accomplished simultaneously.
Most of all I hope the unaffiliated voter is interested in giving our candidates a closer look.