Open primaries would benefit state GOP

While celebrating Tom Foley's victory in Tuesday's primary, Republican Chairman Jerry Labriola exuberantly predicted that "our base will turn out in big numbers this November to overturn Malloy and his failed economic policies."

It's a comforting thought for a Republican official to have on a rare, happy time for a party that last elected anyone to a statewide office eight years ago. But the truth is, even if all 400,000 loyal Republicans flooded the polls and no one defected to Gov. Malloy or a third -party candidate, they wouldn't be enough without a little help from the 800,000 unaffiliated voters and even a few of the 700,000 Democrats.

Back in January, Mr. Labriola, in a more reflective mood, perhaps, said a proposal to reopen the party primary to unaffiliated voters had merit. The proposal came from an unlikely source, former Republican senator turned third-party governor Lowell Weicker and the only Republican elected to the United States Senate in the last half century. Mr. Weicker recognizes that if Republicans could get unaffiliated voters invested in their candidates at the primary stage it could well carry over to the general election.

"Lowell is right that our candidates must appeal not only to our Republican base, but also to unaffiliated voters and disaffected Democrats. It will take a grand coalition of voters to turn Connecticut Republican this fall, which is the only way to fix our damaged economy," Mr. Labriola told The Connecticut Post back then.

But that ended all talk of an open Republican primary in 2014. It would have been difficult, requiring a change in the party bylaws by the party's State Central Committee and the endorsement of the party convention in May.

At that time, Mr. Labriola also conceded the party needed to try harder to attract minorities and city residents and to encourage more unaffiliated voters to join the party. Mr. Foley, the gubernatorial nominee, did talk some about the plight of the cities during the primary without saying what he'd do about it. No one in the cities seemed to notice. Consider this: 131 Republicans voted for governor in Hartford and 123 in New London. It may be some consolation to Mr. Foley that he carried both cities.

In the 2012 presidential and senatorial election, only the wealthiest suburban communities and the smallest rural towns in Connecticut voted Republican. Mitt Romney lost in all five congressional districts.

Like it or not, voters rarely become lifers in either party. They no longer vote the straight party line the way their parents and grandparents did. This was so prevalent in much of the 20th Century that Connecticut voters were encouraged to vote the easy way, by pulling a Democratic or Republican party lever and automatically supporting everyone from the top of the ticket to constable. You only touched the name of an individual candidate if you wanted to undo the lever's vote for him. It worked very nicely for the parties and cut way down on ticket splitting, especially for the majority Democrats.

As today's voters become better educated, they are more likely to vote for issues or individuals and declare their independence of both parties.

Should 2014 be another 2012 or 2010 and the GOP again fails to elect even one member of the U.S. House, party officials may give a second thought to open primaries.

Who knows? If that happens, the Democrats might be shamed into following the opposition's lead and open their primaries as well.

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