The GOP's Decline-to-Win Strategy 

WEST Hollywood, California - The California Republican Party has finally found a way to make its September convention in Rancho Mirage relevant. It's going to take up a proposal to make the Republican Party irrelevant in California elections for decades to come.

Party Vice Chairman Jon Fleischman is proposing that the state GOP close its primary and limit participation exclusively to registered Republican voters. As Vice Chairman Fleischman sees it, the proposal, "is about the long-term view about whether my political party is ultimately centered around the idea that people with common ideas and beliefs willingly come together and belong to a party out of common interest."

By excluding decline-to-state voters from Republicans primaries for state offices, the California GOP will not only further alienate itself from mainstream of Californian, but it could cause irreparable harm to its party's candidates up and down the ticket. Decline-to-state is - what my colleague Chris Nolan calls the "none of the above" party - is after all, the fastest growing voter block out there.

Which is why Fleishman's proposal is not about winning elections. Not even he makes that claim. Voters who self-select to register Republican make up about 31 percent of voters in California - and that's falling. The number of those who ascribe to Fleischman's "Big-Government on Social Issues, Small-Government on Tax Policy" thinking is even smaller. Many have left and only a few Republicans like me have chosen to stick around and fight to make a party that believes in true conservative values like limited government, fundamental freedoms and personal responsibility. In Fleischman's world, even I would not be welcomed in his party, if I wanted in.

So, who are these decline-to-state voters that Fleishman is afraid to have participate in the Republican primaries? As noted, many are former Republicans who have abandoned the party because they feel that the party abandoned them when it veered into a club for right-wing Theocrats. Others are centrist Democrats, voters we used to call "Reagan Democrats" who don't ascribe to that party's shilling for public employee unions at the expense of the taxpayer and might be willing to listen to a sensible, centrist Republican candidate.

Excluding these decline-to-state voters from Republican primaries will harm Republican candidates running in all but the safest, gerrymandered seats. That is why Sacramento veteran Tony Quinn likened the CRP Executive Committee to a "Death Panel" when he considered Fleischman's proposal and Senator Abel Maldonado, who represents one of California's few "swing" districts along the Central Coast, calls the plan "suicidal."

To begin with, consider the psychology of the voter. I do not know about you, but when I vote for someone, I want my candidate to win. There is a psychological bond that is developed between candidate and voter when they punch that card at the ballot box. If you support a candidate in the primary and your candidate prevails, you are probably going to vote for that person again in the General Election. if decline-to-state voters are only allowed to vote in Democratic Primaries in California, you can guess what will happen in the fall elections.

Beyond psychology, there is a practical question of politicking here. The Fleischman plan to ban decline-to-state voters from participating in Republican primaries will effectively keep Republican candidates from communicating to these critical swing voters until after the primary. There is no reason that a Republican candidate would want to spend money speaking to voters who can not vote in their primary election. But during the weeks and months leading up to the primary, Democratic candidates and their messages will go out and fill that vacuum. Advantage: Democrats.

So my proposal for next month's meeting is a simple one: Rather than ask whether decline-to-state voters should be allowed to participate in the Party's primaries, the California Republican Party should ask if it wants to change its bylaws to, "Decline-to-Win."

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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