Write off Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs, but open the party primary to independents

As the GOP approaches its winter meeting Saturday, it appears that this patient has taken a turn for the worse, and loved ones are in denial. Candidates for the party offices, many of them my friends, have offered little but the same old trite ideas that have gotten us to the point of soon being totally irrelevant. Without an honest assessment of the election results, registration and demographic trends, and an appropriate response, how can those newly elected party leaders, or those who elected them, expect a different result?

For the foreseeable future, the party should concede all statewide offices. Statewide candidates deserve our heartfelt thanks and a photo op with the party chair — and nothing more. The local victories in November map out our immediate future. Win the winnable, lead, then proceed. The GOP needs to be a chorus of opposition to the status quo, not a rock star with backup.

Just as presidential campaigns focus on battleground states, it is time to concede Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The GOP is wasting its limited resources for no return. Anyone who says otherwise is just pandering.

When the party made a half-hearted attempt at opening its primary to the "unaffiliated" back in 2000, I was one of its loudest critics. But that was then. Northeast states have very high percentages of "unaffiliated" voters and frequently elect Republicans to majorities in their legislatures and to statewide office. We should join them. We can pray for flukes — or we can adapt to the new reality of the times.

Opening our primary does not mean we have to compromise our principles. The party should host a nominating/endorsement convention much like Virginia's. I attended the most recent Virginia convention and witnessed nearly 10,000 Republicans from around the state cast ballots for the statewide offices and party chair. Our semi-annual convention, by way of comparison, draws fewer than 300 party faithful. We should learn from their success.

The race for the party's presidential nomination is well under way, but you wouldn't know it from here unless you watched Fox News. Candidates may be coy about their plans, but they cannot hide their intentions as they troll for votes in the big three: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. All three of these states hold open elections, meaning that their "unaffiliated" voters have greater influence in the GOP nominating process than party activists in the states that follow.

This is a problem of our own making, and it could be changed. This was just one of the reasons I voted, as the chairman of the 2008 Maryland Republican National Convention delegation, against the Rules Committee report, from my seat near the very back of the convention hall. Our new chair and the Executive Committee should call for a pre-primary caucus in January 2011 and allocate a portion of our convention delegates to the winner. So what if it violates the RNC rules; what do we have to lose? Our proximity to Washington puts us within easy reach of those candidates who are nearby.

You do not have to be a political operative to know that the key to victory in any election is turnout. Why, then, do we fail, year after year, to get our own voters to the polls? The margin of victory in many races are those Republicans who stay home. Nearly 20 percent of GOP registered voters come out to cast ballots in the presidential election but stay home during the elections that have a direct impact on their daily lives.

Early voting and no-excuse absentee voting should have been an opportunity for the GOP this year, but our get-out-the-vote effort failed miserably, as did our absentee ballot chase. Never before could Democratic candidates expect to gain votes when the absentees were counted, but that is just what occurred. Increasing turnout should be the party's primary focus.

Call me crazy, but I won't be doing the same thing for the next four years expecting a different outcome.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville resident, is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and former chairman of the Baltimore County GOP. His e-mail is donmurphypa@aol.com.

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