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RNC leader backs closed primaries, will Alabama legislators follow suit?

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus appears on CNN March 16, 2014 (Photo: YouTube)
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus appears on CNN March 16, 2014 (Photo: YouTube)

According the The Washington Times, “angry Republican leaders (are) ready to shut (the) door on open primaries.”

“Republican National Committee members and activists are still seething about reports that longtime Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, enlisted Democrats to help him win his tough primary contest this summer against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who was backed by the tea party,” Ralph Hallow of The Washington Times wrote last week. “They would seem to have an ally in the GOP boss (RNC Chairman Reince Priebus), but the sentiments of the entire party and the prospects for changing state laws are unclear.”

Priebus told The Times during an RNC meeting in Chicago that he has been a longtime supporter of closed primaries.

“This is a position I have held for a long time and is consistent with the party’s platform,” he said.

But while the Cochran victory in Mississippi brought the issue to the forefront nationally, the 2014 election cycle made Alabama’s open primaries a major issue in the Yellowhammer State as well, especially in legislative races.

Republicans currently hold every statewide office in Alabama, and enjoy super-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

It’s nearly impossible for a candidate to get elected with a “D” beside their name in most parts of the state. That has led many longtime Democrats to switch parties. Most of them would say, as Ronald Reagan once did, that they didn’t leave the party, the party left them. But candidates are not the only ones who have made the politically opportunistic leap from one side of the aisle to the other; interest groups have as well.

In particular, the Alabama Education Association (AEA), the de facto Democratic Party in Alabama in the absence of a viable party structure, played in Alabama Republican primaries this year at an unprecedented level.

In all, the AEA spent roughly $7 million this primary season, the vast majority of which was funneled through groups widely believed to be fronts for the AEA created to hide their involvement from Republican voters.

But the AEA didn’t act alone, as Yellowhammer explained back in May:

Their operatives started last year by attending a “campaign academy” hosted by a group founded by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Barack Obama’s campaign operation, now known as Organizing for Action, linked up with the AEA to help them get voters to the polls. They were joined by a new group called Empower Alabama, launched earlier this year by the former Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, who quickly hired Obama campaign staffers.

This highly trained coalition of community organizers has been scouring the state in recent months, but not in Democratic districts where you might expect, but in Republican areas.

Their efforts were largely unsuccessful, but led to renewed cries from conservative activists and some Republican elected officials for Alabama to close its primaries once and for all.

“Given the fact that AEA-backed RINOs infiltrated our Republican primaries this election cycle and will likely continue to do so, there is obviously a need to look at the system and make needed adjustments,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard said shortly after the primaries. “I believe we should lay out all available options, including closing our GOP run-offs to crossover voting, and study what works best in other Republican red states like Alabama. The next legislative session does not convene until next March, so we have plenty of time to take a measured approach and decide upon the steps necessary to protect our party nominating process.”

“I do not believe it is right for Democrats to be able to vote in our primary or Republicans to vote in the Democrat primary,” added Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead. “What happened in Mississippi is a wakeup call for Republicans to act and I think you will see some effort approved in the session next year to do so.”

The 2015 Legislative session will likely be one in which Republicans try to tackle some pretty big issues. Will closing the state’s primaries be one of them? Possibly. But there are some Republican leaders who say behind closed doors that they’re actually more afraid of the party’s most conservative wing controlling the GOP’s nominating process than they are of Democrats crossing over.

What do you think? Should Alabama’s primaries be closed, or should they remain open? Vote below, and let us know your thoughts in the comment section or by tweeting @YHPolitics.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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