Should Democrats Vote in the 2013 Republican Gubernatorial Primary?


    by Paul Goldman

    While the climactic showdown between Kenny C and Bill “Twinkies” Bolling is still a good 18 months away, the prospect of their battle raises an interesting issue under current VA law: Should Democrats vote in the 2013 primary for or against either the GOP contestants?

    Before the conservative cry foul, let’s remember that George Allen has proudly said, on many occasions, that he voted in the 1977 Democratic gubernatorial primary. In Virginia, there is no party registration, thus any eligible voter can participate in either party primary.

    I raise this issue now because it may soon become a hot button issue of the 2012 General Assembly Session; should Virginia throw out two centuries of tradition and go to a system that not only allows party registration, but doesn’t allow cross-over voting in primaries?

    Indeed, some states restrict primary voting to only those registered with that particular party, with those not stating a preference excluded.

    Republicans, as a group, have been far more receptive to requiring some form of party registration as part of a move away from our current “open” primary system.

    It is fair to say that liberal Democrats have tended to agree, while more conservative voters, especially from the rural areas, have feared party registration as an electoral disaster for them.

    But have the stars aligned at the State Capitol to force through probably the greatest single change in Virginia election law since they got rid of the “challenge” primary rule? (note: that rule required a candidate to win a gubernatorial primary with at least 50%, or face a challenge from the person finishing second should he or she want to take a second bite out of the apple)

    One would assume the Cuccinelli wing of the party would want some form of party registration/closed primary for 2013. What about the Bolling wing? It would be difficult for Governor McDonnell to veto such a law if were passed by the House – where it would seem to have the votes – and the Senate, where the odds are far more shaky but surely possible.

    Bottom line: Party registration would make a difference here in Virginia, although the precise impact is not knowable.

    It would surely remove the possibility of cross-over voting in the 2013 gubernatorial primary. Any new state law could, of course, pick and choose different rules for local, legislative and statewide primaries.

    My bet: The Cuccinelli wing is going to want party registration. Given the practicalities, it will initially only appeal to dyed-in-the-wool Republicans or Democrats, since it will take several years before everyone has to choose what to do when they register or renew their registration.

    LG Bolling will privately fear it, but he can’t be seen as blocking it. Indeed, what Republican will want to carry that weight?

    So, either Speaker Howell or Governor McDonnell kills the idea, or it might become law in Virginia depending on how the politics of the General Assembly play out next year.

    In fact, a failure to pass party registration might give Cuccinelli an opening to ask the Republican Party to reconsider its call for a 2013 primary. The AG knows his strength among the activists is greatly enhanced in the GOP Caucus/Convention process, as does Mr. Bolling and the Governor.

    How many Democrats would actually cross over to vote in the 2013 primary, and moreover, who would they vote for? Folklore says activists have been known to vote in droves for whom they considered the weaker opponent. There is no reputable study to support this contention. Indeed, it assumes someone would vote for someone they don’t want to be Governor, even though their vote makes it more likely that candidate would win the primary — and thus get closer to achieving precisely what the voter doesn’t want to happen.

    I don’t see it. But a Democrat prone to support a particular Republican is far more likely to cross over. In theory, this would seem to help Cuccinelli more, since he generates the far more passionate backing.

    Meaning: There may actually be a reason for Mr. Bolling to want to change the law for the 2013.

    Either way, a Democrat determined to vote in the GOP primary could always change his or her registration, cast a ballot, and then change the party ID back.

    So no matter what the GOP tries to do, there is no way to stop a Democrat, under any system, from voting in the primary. Is this the right thing to do?

    In 1949, Senator Harry Byrd, fearing an anti-Byrd  Democrat might win a three-way primary due to a split in the Senator’s infamous Machine, publicly called for Republicans and Independents to vote in the Democratic primary. Folklore says they did and helped Big Harry stuff out the revolt.

    Perhaps 2013 will add a new chapter to Virginia’s political history.  


    Sign up for the Blue Virginia weekly newsletter

    Previous articleVideo: Republican Candidates Not Extreme Enough for Kookinelli
    Next articleA reckoning — but for whom?