This is the kind of nerd I am.
Back in my day, most kids turning 18 were looking forward to drinking 3.2 beer. Since I was already on a steady diet of Coors Lights pinched from my folks’ garage refrigerator, the first thing I did on my 18th birthday was to go down to the county courthouse and register to vote as a Republican (which took a photo ID by the way — oh, the voter suppression I had to battle).
I could never understand why anyone wouldn’t register with a party, other to sound pompous and say, “Me? Oh, I’m an Independent. I vote for the person, not the party.”
First, you weren’t an “Independent” because you weren’t a member of the Independent Party (yes, there is one). And being unaffiliated meant you chose to be a disempowered voter. At most your vote was just one out of more than 3 million in the Colorado general election.
As a registered Republican I could go to the party caucus and was one vote out of maybe 10 in my precinct. After which I would go to the party assemblies, like the state assembly, where I was one of only a few thousand voters. And then I got to vote in the Republican primary to decide who gets on the general election ballot. Then I got to vote in that too.
But that all changed in 2016 when Colorado voters opened primaries to unaffiliated voters. I still strongly disagree with this change. Political parties are private organizations and people outside that organization shouldn’t have a say in who represents them in the general election.
But that change got me to do something I never thought I’d do. I switched my party registration from Republican to unaffiliated.
My figuring was that since I live in Boulder where there are rarely two Republicans running for the same seat in a primary, and often not even one, I’d have more power occasionally voting in the Democrat’s primary (insert Dr. Evil laugh here).
In other words, unless you want to go to caucuses, which relatively very few voters do, there’s little reason to be registered R or D in Colorado. Thus, there are now far more unaffiliated voters in Colorado than Republicans or Democrats.
So far, unaffiliated voters playing in this semi-open primary system hasn’t really mattered. There has not been a meaningful amount of unaffiliateds voting in Republican or Democrat primaries to change the results.
But 2022 could change all that. And the advantage is Republican.
If unaffiliated voters are tempted to mail back their Republican primary ballot (they will receive both an R and a D ballot, but can only return one), Republicans could win this autumn.
Especially in a year like this with inflation stealing working families’ income and crime at near-high levels, even Democrat-leaning unaffiliateds will be tempted to vote for change.
Encouraging for Repubicans, there is absolutely no reason for an unaffiliated to vote in the Democrat primary. Other than in the new 8th congressional district, there are no sizable contested Democrat primaries.
Many of the Republican faithful will be suspicious of unaffiliateds voting in their primary to “sabotage” it, voting for the candidate least likely to win in the fall.
Expect cries of foul play from losing primary candidates.
But the fact is voting in the other guy’s primary is not a foul anymore. The rules changed and campaigns that don’t exploit these new rules will lose.
The best, if not only, Republican strategy is to make a full-out push for unaffiliated voters in the primary. To do that a candidate must send messages that connect with unaffiliateds, not just their core Republican base.
Basically, to draw in these voters, and get them practiced in voting Republican, your campaign must be about their issues — inflation and crime, inflation and crime, inflation and crime. Democrats can’t run away from these problems they caused.
Republican candidates must build get-out-the-vote efforts to legally (get ready for the term) vote harvest to help sympathetic unaffiliated voters legally return their ballot.
These are skills Republicans don’t have but will need to win both the primary and general election.
Or Republican candidates talk about past stolen elections to their own base, and lose, again.
Then later they can talk about how the 2022 election was stolen.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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