OpEd: Real GOP Minority Outreach? Move 1st Primary To Colorado

Image: Denver skyline

Skyscrapers are illuminated as sun rises over downtown Denver on Oct. 15, 2014. David Zalubowski / AP

Jeb Bush, a possible Presidential candidate for 2016, talked about the need for the Republican Party to re-connect with minority voters. As a fluent Spanish speaker, he has long been viewed as an ideal candidate to make progress on this front for the GOP. However, if Mr. Bush is sincere he can start by encouraging the implementation of rules within the GOP primary nomination process to start making minority votes matter.

Boss Tweed, the notorious leader of the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine is rumored to have once said, "I don't care who does the electing so long as I can do the nominating". More candid words have seldom been said in politics.

Mr. Bush is right to be concerned about the disconnect between the GOP and minority voters. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that the voters who will pick the next Republican presidential nominee will be overwhelmingly white. According to the poll, 95 percent of the respondents who said they would vote in the GOP primary were white. The US Census estimates that less than 64 percent of the country is now non-Hispanic white.

This should be remarkably unsettling for any Republican leader hoping to win a presidential election, yet there is little more than an obligatory sentiment about democracy and representation directed at the problem. However, let us pretend for a moment that Mr. Bush is earnest in his sentiments. What indicators might minorities see if the GOP were serious about its minority problem?

A quick rule of thumb for minorities keeping a watch on the GOP is to be mindful of the rules rather than the marketing. If the GOP is sincere about minority outreach there will need to be systemic changes in how the party extends a voice to minorities.

An aide to Governor Scott Walker recently quit after criticizing the influential role that the state of Iowa plays in the nomination process. Liz Mair tweeted, "The sooner we remove Iowa's frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be".

She was right, but of course, though the rules now make her a liability for the Walker campaign. By national party rules, Iowa is the first state to vote in nomination process, giving them preferred status among presidential nominees.

There are exactly zero reasons Iowa needs to be first state to participate in the nomination process other than being some relic of the Byzantine rule-making process of the party. But a simple rule change would have a profound impact on the priorities of the campaigns. Compared with the rest of the country, Iowa is disproportionately rural and white. According to the US Census, about 19 percent of U.S. residents live in rural areas, and the country is less than 64 percent non-Hispanic white. By contrast, Iowa is 36 percent rural and 89 percent non-Hispanic white.

Academics have proposed several broad reforms to the primary election process that could help improve the current system. One reform may be to have a set rotation of small states that hold their nomination process early in the season. This would ensure that candidates with limited resources would still have an opportunity to have their voices heard. Another is to have a national primary election day. Dr. Caroline Tolbert and her co-authors found strong support for a national primary policy, but her research also shows that voters who are conscious of the role their state plays in the nomination process are also less likely to accept these changes.

My own opinion is that a suitable replacement for Iowa would be the state of Colorado. Colorado is about 14 percent rural and 70 percent non-Hispanic white. While a bit larger than Iowa, Colorado is not a large state, and the diversity of Colorado would urge a broader discussion about issues that might bring minorities into the national discussion. With a strong Republican presence in the state and with competitive statewide elections, the GOP and the country would benefit from this change rather maintaining the archaic influences of Iowa.

A Latino Decisions poll prior to the last Presidential Election in 2011 showed that only 41 percent of the already minuscule share of Latino Republicans thought the GOP was doing a good job of reaching out to Latinos. By contrast, 63 percent of Latino Democrats were satisfied with Democratic efforts among Hispanics. Making Latino votes, and minority votes in general, matter is the best possible way to make the GOP matter as a national party once again.