The Colorado Republican Party shouldn’t cancel its 2018 primary.
Winning in politics is the art of addition, not subtraction, and the Colorado Republican Party will soon decide if it wants to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive state.
Under Proposition 108, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, unaffiliated voters will be sent both parties’ primary election ballots and the voter must choose one to vote in. But 108 also empowers the state central committees of both political parties to cancel primary elections which would allow a party to actually nominate candidates at the state assembly. The state central committee can only cancel a primary with a vote of 75 percent of its members.
The Colorado Republican State Central Committee meets in September and apparently there will be an effort to cancel the 2018 Republican primary. Let there be no mistake about it: If the primary is canceled and nominations are left to a few thousand activists while millions of Republicans and unaffiliated voters are essentially shut out of the process, Republicans will pay politically.
The math is clear. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office reports that as of August 1, 2017 there were 1,187,916 (35.6 percent) unaffiliated voters while there were 1,046,832 Democrats (31.3 percent) and 1,041,051 Republicans (31.1 percent).
Republicans are only competitive in statewide elections when candidates are nominated who attract support from that 36 percent of the electorate who are unaffiliated. What message would this send to Republican and unaffiliated voters who are denied the ability to vote in a primary?
Proposition 108 empowers more than 2 million Republican and unaffiliated voters to vote in a statewide GOP primary election. The Colorado Republican Party says that 60,000 Republicans attended their precinct caucus in 2016 which is the first step toward electing a few thousand delegates to the Republican State Assembly.
So if the primary is canceled, those few thousand delegates elected by the 60,000 or so Republicans who attend caucuses would decide the Republican nominees for governor, attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state along with a multitude of congressional and state offices. Meanwhile, more than two million Republican and unaffiliated voters will be denied a vote in the primary.
Republican candidates should embrace 108 as an opportunity to craft their campaign messages to not only reflect Republican principles but to attract unaffiliated voters as well. We saw once again in 2016 that a hard-edged campaign that runs as far as possible to the right in the primary is not successful in the general election.
One only needs to look at successful Republican candidates for governor and U.S. senator going back four decades to see this. U.S. Sens. Bill Armstrong, Hank Brown, Wayne Allard and Cory Gardner along with Gov. Bill Owens all ran strong Republican campaigns that attracted unaffiliated voters rather than repelling them.
Colorado Republicans should never forget these sobering facts:
Owens was the first Republican governor to be elected in 28 years when he won in 1998 and is the only Republican governor in the past 42 years. In fact, there have been only two Republican governors elected in the past 62 years.
Eliminating the primary would be the first step in repelling unaffiliated voters in the general election and setting the stage for a fourth consecutive gubernatorial loss. I am hopeful that the Colorado Republican State Central Committee will strongly reject canceling the primary.
Dick Wadhams was chair of the Colorado Republican Party from 2007-11.