Spotlight

The GOP’s Convention Crackup

Attorney General for Virginia and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli speaks during a debate with former DNC Chair and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliff on September 25, 2013 in McLean, Virginia. Voters go to the polls November 5 to decide which candidate will replace incumbent governor Bob McDonnell, who has reached his term limits. 
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
Oct. 23, 2013, 7:40 a.m.

Elec­tion rules de­signed to be­ne­fit con­ser­vat­ives have played an un­her­al­ded role in push­ing the party right­ward, while also cost­ing them at the bal­lot box. The most not­able: The party’s prac­tice, in sev­er­al states, of hold­ing con­ven­tions in­stead of primar­ies to choose nom­in­ees. Those con­ven­tions typ­ic­ally draw an un­rep­res­ent­at­ive cross-sec­tion of single-is­sue act­iv­ists.

— In Vir­gin­ia, Ken Cuc­cinelli‘s al­lies by­passed the primary pro­cess to blunt in­tra­party op­pos­i­tion, a move that’s con­trib­uted to his prob­lems uni­fy­ing the party. Iron­ic­ally, the out­spoken con­ser­vat­ive is be­latedly try­ing to rally the base, something that would have been much easi­er had he en­gaged the broad­er GOP elect­or­ate in a primary cam­paign. The con­ven­tion also nom­in­ated scan­dal-plagued pas­tor E.W. Jack­son as their LG nom­in­ee, thanks to his red-meat con­ven­tion speech. As­sum­ing he loses, the party lost out on groom­ing a fu­ture GOP gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate for 2017.

— Re­pub­lic­ans are fa­cing their next loom­ing crisis in Iowa, for the state’s very-win­nable open seat Sen­ate race. A crowded cast of can­did­ates is vy­ing for the GOP nom­in­a­tion, but party rules guar­an­tee a con­ven­tion if no one hits 35% of the vote. That pos­sib­il­ity is grow­ing, with party lead­ers do­ing noth­ing to avert the out­come. A con­ven­tion would start the pro­cess over, rais­ing the like­li­hood of a weak can­did­ate emer­ging.

— Re­pub­lic­ans won’t have trouble hold­ing a Sen­ate seat in Utah, but Sen. Mike Lee‘s polit­ic­al chal­lenges back home also show­case the party’s con­cerns over con­ven­tions. He be­nefited from the state’s unique sys­tem, where Re­pub­lic­ans hold a con­ven­tion to win­now down can­did­ates be­fore a po­ten­tial primary. Utah Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers (led by former Gov. Leav­itt) are already ral­ly­ing to shift to an open primary nom­in­at­ing pro­cess.

The con­ven­tion prob­lem only im­pacts Re­pub­lic­ans in a few states, but it’s en­dem­ic of the party’s prob­lems nom­in­at­ing elect­able can­did­ates. And the con­sequences of elec­tion rules be­ne­fit­ing grass­roots act­iv­ists will play a much great­er role in the run-up to 2016.

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