Let unaffiliated voters take part in primaries

Lowell Weicker, at 82, is an elder statesman without a party who nevertheless believes Connecticut is floundering under one party rule and would like to see the two-party system revitalized and restored in the state.

He thinks the Republican Party could enjoy a comeback if it allowed unaffiliated voters like him and about 872,000 others to vote in primary elections. We agree and not just for the Republican Party.

Now, many Republicans are loath to take advice from Mr. Weicker, who left the party to run as a third-party candidate for governor in 1990 and defeated the Republican and Democratic candidates in that election. But he had a long and distinguished career in a once successful Connecticut Republican Party as a member of the House and three-term U.S. senator. He is, in fact, the only Connecticut Republican elected to the U.S. Senate in the past 50 years.

The numbers tell the story: 430,584 registered Republicans, 768,176 registered Democrats and the previously noted 872,839 citizens who prefer not to ally themselves with either party, a fact that should worry both parties.

There hasn't been a Republican elected to a statewide office since 2006. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are the five House members. The governor is a Democrat, the holders of all the constitutional offices in state government, like treasurer, secretary of the state and attorney general, are Democrats and Democrats hold a majority in both houses of the legislature.

In the 2012 presidential election, the wealthiest suburban communities and the smallest rural towns in Connecticut voted Republican. Mitt Romney won only one county, the largely small town, affluent Litchfield County; the other five were carried by President Obama by wide margins.

Mr. Weicker would say being exclusionary has been the biggest mistake and opening party deliberations to the unaffiliated would also mean welcoming "minorities, gays, women, unions and urban poor." He also believes that allowing a voter to help select a candidate, also encourages him or her to vote for that candidate in the general election.

As this newspaper pointed out in endorsing open primaries, "the logic behind the closed primary process is flawed." The flaw is in the view that letting in unaffiliated voters would provide them with one less incentive to join the already weakened parties.

Both of them have been weakened by being controlled by their most fervent followers, whether from the left for the Democrats or the right for Republicans.

This orthodoxy can result in the nomination of extremists, more so in the Republican Party where the emergence of the tea party has discouraged those with more moderate - and electable - views than in the broader-based Democratic Party. The open primary would enlarge both party bases.

If one party changes its rules to allow unaffiliated voters to take part in primaries, the other would certainly be forced to follow suit and there's a considerable advantage to the party that does it first.

But it won't be easy. The party's state central committee must first give its approval and then the state party's endorsement must be upheld by delegates to the nominating conventions. This means opening party primaries is in the hands of party insiders and true believers.

There is, however, one encouraging sign. When Mr. Weicker brought up the open primary in an interview with the Hearst newspapers in January, Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola said, "Lowell is right that our candidates must appeal not only to our base but to unaffiliated voters and disaffected Democrats." Mr. Labriola admitted he has occasionally sought Mr. Weicker's advice and said an open primary "has merit."

What's encouraging is not just Mr. Labriola willingness to consider the open primary but also the admission by a Connecticut Republican state chairman that he occasionally seeks the counsel of Mr. Weicker.

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