The political winds are blowing in the Republicans’ direction this year. It would be a shame to blow it — so to speak. A lingering issue surrounds the fallout from Proposition 108, a ballot question that voters approved in 2016. That measure now allows unaffiliated voters to participate in either Republican or Democrat primary election ballots – but not in both.
I voted “no” on Prop 108, as did both the Republican and Democrat state chairs, on the grounds that political parties are private membership organizations. And that non-members shouldn’t be allowed to interfere in the members’ selection of their nominees. Just as elections for president of your Rotary Club shouldn’t be open to Elks.
I still believe in that principle but Prop 108 passed, nonetheless, and we have to live with political reality. So, as a Republican, I’m now reconciled to the unaffiliated voting in GOP primaries. However, a group of five members of the Republican central committee went to court seeking an injunction to block the provisions of Prop 108. Their request was recently dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge John Kane, settling the issue.
Earlier, opportunistic Democrats had changed their position and publicly opposed the lawsuit, welcoming with open arms the unaffiliated to vote in their primaries. This was designed to create the impression that Republicans don’t value unaffiliated voters in the general election, either. Which is nonsense. Without the votes of some unaffiliateds, Republican nominees can’t win statewide elections. In his ruling, Judge Kane made the distinct point that the Colorado Republican Party had not joined the lawsuit against Prop 108, confirming that the party is now officially OK with the new arrangement.
In effect, by dismissing the ill-considered lawsuit against Prop 108 the judge has helped Republican prospects. If Democrats had voluntarily opened their primaries to unaffiliateds and Republicans didn’t, unaffiliated voters could have become invested in the candidates for whom they voted in Democrat primaries and be disinclined to vote for Republicans in the general election.
Unaffiliated registrations have surged in recent years. 44% of Coloradans are now unaffiliated. 28.5% are registered as Democrats and 25.5% as Republicans. (The other 2% distributed among minor parties.) It’s been said that the unaffiliated make up the largest voting bloc. That’s not exactly true. Another way of looking at it is that the largest bloc of voters is comprised of the combined 54% registered as either Democrats or Republicans, the great majority of whom loyally support their respective parties.
The unaffiliated do include the largest group of swing voters but not as many as it might seem. Polls and past behavior show that most unaffiliateds lean left and reliably vote for Democrats. I doubt they all lean so far left that they’re inalterably committed to the party of radical progressives like Bernie Sanders and AOC. Colorado Republicans can still gain ground in November if the anti-Democrat tide includes swing-voting unaffiliateds and Democrats fed up with Biden and the radical progressives that have taken control of the party.
It’s possible that opening party primaries to those who aren’t registered with that party can thwart the will of a party’s faithful members, or even lead to sabotage. For example, unaffiliateds determined to vote for vulnerable Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet in November’s general election could conspire to cast enough Republican primary ballots to help nominate a right-wing Trump wannabe. Given Colorado’s liberal, anti-Trump statewide leanings, such a Republican would be unelectable, guaranteeing a Bennet victory.
On the other hand, the votes of truly swing-voting unaffiliateds in the Republican Senate primary could tip the scales to nominate a Bill Owens, Hank Brown or Bill Armstrong kind of dignified right-center Republican who could win a statewide election.
You can imagine numerous scenarios like these. But registered Republicans and Democrats who vote in their parties’ primaries, along with unaffiliateds who are consistently loyal to one party or the other would still dominate the respective party primaries. That would make it difficult to pull off a successful conspiracy.
As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained to Iraq-bound U.S. troops in 2004 who wished for more armor on their Humvees, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wished you had. In a political context, you go to an election with the voters you have now, not the ones you’d like to have. With Republican and Democrat primaries in Colorado now open to unaffiliated voters, political strategies must change with the times if you want to win.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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