I was interested to read an article in this morning's Baltimore Sun about how the Maryland GOP is looking to open its primaries to allow unaffiliated voters to help choose their candidates. I think many would say that primaries are to partly to blame (along with gerrymandering) for the partisan politics that drive (or stall) our government, but to the extent they exist, a party-limited primary would seem to be the best way to choose a candidate. Those in favor of the change say it is intended to court Independent voters, by why not also court Democrats? Green Party? Libertarians?
Similar to state-wide campaigns, running a campaign for local office is in great part about focusing your effort and targeting your message. The only difference is, as opposed to state-wide campaigns, there is no polling to back up your "focus". You don't know if your message is completely discordant from what the district is interested in supporting. Over the past week alone, I've heard two very passionate people on either side of the political spectrum tell me "People are very angry" and "People are very happy". Anecdotal evidence does little to define the terms of debate. You just have to go out there with what you believe.
But wooing the independent/unaffiliated voter is a given. They are the fastest growing registration classification amongst all groups of voters. They also stake out the ideological middle, although as Frank Hecker has noted, most of unaffiliated voters may be better termed "weak partisans". (I would love to hear from Frank on the GOP proposal.) The questions are legion when you start thinking about how to address the thoughts, concerns, hopes, and fears of this constituency, but the base answer is "good ideas without the ideology".
Introducing unaffiliated voters into a primary could be presumed to act as an ideological filter: "You must be this moderate to enter."
I've been knocking on unaffiliated doors. They're happy to talk to me, don't have any resentment towards Democrats, and normally are the most interested in my ideas to help engage committed citizens in the business of Annapolis. That's exciting to them (as it is for me). These individuals are not unaffiliated out of apathy, but rather frustration. They want "good ideas without the ideology" and a plan to get them accomplished.
The registrations are working in one direction, and it may be smart for the GOP to make this switch, but I wonder to what extent it is just quitting on the party structure; an acknowledgement that the party needs to dilute its ideology and the only way to do so is by ceding ground. Democrats are not without our own ideological weight, but the size of the party has placed differences of opinion into factions of dissenters (i.e., same-sex marriage, DREAM Act, gun control, gas tax).
I may be romanticizing our unaffiliated neighbors, but they are the key to Howard County politics (at least out in the swing districts). They vote and, I would presume, have decided every close election that this County has seen for the last 20 years. Anger and fear won't woo them. Good ideas will.
That's all for today. Have a great Thursday doing what you love!